Problems of illegal construction practices, safety and quality have surfaced in the planned Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and other major infrastructure linking Hong Kong with the mainland.
A joint venture of Dragages Hong Kong, VSL (subsidiaries of French conglomerate Bouygues Construction) and China Harbour Engineering recently won the HK$12.9 billion design-build contract, the largest ever awarded in Hong Kong, according to Bouygues.
China Harbour is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction (CCC), a state-owned infrastructure construction firm listed in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Under the contract, the joint venture will build a 9.4 km section of the bridge from Lantau to the boundary of Hong Kong territorial waters.
Construction will begin in the middle of this year and end in 2016, when the bridge is scheduled to become operational.
The three-way bridge will support a dual three-lane carriageway, giving Hong Kong cars direct access to Macau and Zhuhai.
But problems of illegal construction have been discovered on parts of the bridge and other projects under the jurisdiction of Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Ports Association said.
Last month, 145 cases of illegal construction were discovered on coastal infrastructure projects, including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, a rise of 190 per cent year-on-year, the association said.
'During the course of construction of major coastal infrastructure projects, the authorities discovered many instances of slipshod work that were not up to standard and facilities that failed to meet requirements,' it said. 'Some companies secretly participated in construction projects without obtaining construction permits, creating huge safety risks for maritime transport.'
The 145 cases of illegal construction included problems in a 30-kilometre undersea natural gas pipeline linking Hong Kong with Shenzhen, as well as a planned international cruise terminal in Taiziwan, Shekou, in western Shenzhen.
The cruise terminal is being built at a cost of nearly 10 billion yuan (HK$12.2 billion), according to a Sina.com report.
'There will be differences in design and safety standards on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. We can't force the Chinese side to use Hong Kong standards. The safety standards in Hong Kong are very high,' said a Hong Kong construction consultant who did not want to be named.
The fact that major infrastructure linking Hong Kong with the mainland had safety issues, including illegal construction practices, could be a serious cause for concern, said Richard di Bona, who runs a Hong Kong transport consultancy.
'The increase in prosecution for illegal construction in May is probably the result of a clampdown after the Ministry of Railways scandal. China is cleaning up its act,' di Bona said.
The illegal construction practices discovered in Shenzhen were probably linked to bureaucratic corruption, he added.
'If there is a big contract, a civil servant on a not very high salary will be tempted to fill his pockets.'