My Take

Corruption endemic in bidding for building renovations

Recent court cases show the government has so far taken a cavalier attitude; maybe now it will be forced to take the problem seriously

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 1:06am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 1:06am

Fresh on the heels of the only criminal conviction out of The Garden Vista’s rigged renovation scandal, another legal case has exposed the sorry state of private estate management involving multimillion-dollar repair works.

The current owners’ incorporated committee of Allway Gardens in Tsuen Wan has had to take its case to the Lands Tribunal because the previous committee refused to hand over financial and management records and even made the banks freeze the estate’s funds. As a result, millions of dollars have been owed to the estate’s management and security companies, which have threatened to withdraw service.

Last week, the tribunal ruled in favour of the current committee and acknowledged its legal standing, which was denied by the previous committee.

As a flat owner and reporter, I have heard many horror stories about renovation disputes and experienced a few myself. But the Allway Gardens case has to be among the worst.

Some members of the previous committee essentially declared war on their neighbours after they were ousted. Many residents were upset about two renovation proposals they had tried to impose on them in 2014 and last year. Both cost estimates were considered too high and the estate was last renovated in 2008. It’s anyone’s guess why the previous committee is fighting tooth and nail against releasing the records.

Why not prosecute the others? Residents of Hong Kong estate at centre of bid-rigging scandal ask why 7 arrested, only 1 charged

Last week also saw the jailing of a subcontractor for 35 months after he admitted to the Independent Commission Against Corruption that he had conspired with six others to whom HK$45 million was paid in the case of The Garden Vista in Sha Tin. So far, he is the only one charged in the case.

The Garden Vista and Allway Gardens are just the tip of the iceberg. Regulations such as the Building Management Ordinance compel the formation of owners’ committees. Thousands of buildings older than 30 years are required by law to carry out inspection and, if necessary, repair works. Yet there are insufficient safeguards against collusion and corruption. In fact, subsidy schemes such as Operation Building Bright positively offer incentives for corrupt parties to collude.

The relevant laws clearly need to be revised to include criminal sanctions and establish clear and enforceable standards of transparency for contract bidding in large-scale renovations.

The government has so far taken a cavalier attitude. Maybe now it will be forced to take the problem seriously.