High stakes involved in Shenzhen's concrete scandal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 3:11am

Aggressively pursuing growth and development, top Chinese cities are rapidly expanding with a view to outdoing one another. Our neighbouring city of Shenzhen is no exception. Over the past two decades, the economic powerhouse of the Pearl River Delta has awed many with its construction prowess, building upwards and sideways at jaw-dropping speed and scale. But recently, reports of some property developers using unsuitable materials for construction have rung the alarm bells over building and public safety in the city and the region. Urgent investigation is needed.

Authorities have so far refused to disclose how many blocks were erected with inferior concrete. But it is worrying to learn that at least 15 of the 92 plants checked were found to have manufactured concrete with untreated sea sand, which could corrode steel reinforcements over the years and cause buildings to collapse. Three construction projects were ordered suspended immediately, including the 660-metre Ping An Finance Centre, which would be the tallest building in the city.

What the reports have exposed may just be the tip of the iceberg. We cannot rule out the possibility that substandard construction materials manufactured by the plants have already been used in many more buildings. The investigation will not be complete without bringing law-breakers to justice. Identifying the scale of the problem and keeping the public informed of the situation should also be a priority. Should remedial measures be needed to reinforce building safety, officials should not hesitate to do so.

The scandal evokes memories of Hong Kong early in the last century, when it was plagued by similar woes. Rising demand for housing, slack controls and corruption gave rise to buildings constructed with concrete made with sea water. At stake is not just image and reputation. Clearly, the nation's burgeoning construction industry is still governed by slack controls and lax monitoring. A modern world power has no room for substandard buildings that put people's lives in jeopardy.