A points system for assessing bids for public works could be introduced within months, according to a government official. Rules heavily favouring the allocation of tenders to the lowest bidder have come under fire in the wake of a series of scandals. Revelations that the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation made extra payments of $1.63 billion on the West Rail project added to the scrutiny of the public tendering system. A more thorough assessment of tenderers will take into account a contractor's past record and the quality of its proposals, rather than cost being the dominant criteria. The move is also intended to reduce undercutting. 'To increase their chance of success, contractors may sometimes offer super-competitive bids,' a Works Bureau source said, confirming the adoption of the points system. 'It is not necessarily a bad thing because it can allow the Government to better control costs, but we have to be sure that quality would not be compromised.' However, Executive Councillor Henry Tang Ying-yen said the practice of accepting the lowest bid had merits, adding it was too early to say whether it should be scrapped. Mr Tang, who chaired a government taskforce on ways to reform the contracting system, was referring to a review being undertaken by the Works Bureau into the overall procurement policy of the construction industry. The taskforce presented its findings in January last year. A progress report would be made in March to the Provisional Construction Industry Co-ordination Board, which Mr Tang heads. 'When it comes to public money, it is not so easy to simply say we should give up the lowest-bid practice. The public sector has to be accountable to the members of the public and explain why the lowest bidder is not chosen,' he said. It is understood the points system would not apply to public bodies such as the Housing Authority or KCRC. However, such agencies usually follow government practices. Of the 101 public works projects in 2000-01, 28 were not awarded to the lowest bidders, mainly because of concerns over quality, according to the bureau. A Works Bureau spokeswoman said the board was also expected to study overseas practices. Legislator Albert Chan, the Democratic Party's spokesman on infrastructure, said: 'It may be addressing the wrong question if we only focus on the lowest bid. A points system is certainly helpful but the main issue is proper monitoring without which it can guarantee nothing, even though you give the job to the highest bidder.' John Luk, former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, said: 'Unreasonably low bid prices are difficult to define. If a contractor can explain why he can do the job so cheaply and you are satisfied with his explanations after examining his proposal, then you have no reason not to use the contractor.' But legislator Lau Ping-cheung, who represents the architectural, surveying, and planning sectors in the legislature, said awarding contracts to contractors who had placed unreasonably low bids was unhealthy.