My Take

Government left high and dry after suspending go-to consultant

Engineering giant Arup has its fingers in many public project pies, but for three months it is being shut out over Wang Chau controversy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 12:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 November, 2016, 11:07am

The Wang Chau development scandal is a gift that keeps on giving – if you are a journalist. For the government, though, it’s one embarrassment after another.

The latest news sees the government slapping a penalty on engineering consultant Arup for leaking confidential data to a private developer and client.

What we know so far: Arup worked on the controversial public housing project in Wang Chau for the government. It was also hired by New World Development to work on a private development project adjacent to the Wang Chau site. Somehow, confidential information on the government’s projected population and employment figures ended up with New World, which used the data in its application to the Town Planning Board to rezone a green-belt site for its own development.

How did that happen? Arup blames it on the negligence of staff. The government appears to accept its explanation, by criticising it for failing to maintain a proper “firewall” on files between clients.

Company who won government tender penalised for leaking confidential data to private developer

Arup is now barred from bidding for government contracts for three months. That must hurt – for the government. As Ivan Ho Man-yiu of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects said, commenting on Arup, the government favours just a handful of big multinational consultants over local small- to medium-sized companies. Where are our bureaucrats going to find consultants to hire in the next three months?

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor, the West Kowloon arts hub – Arup has a hand in them all. As dug up by my Post colleague Stuart Heaver, Arup has major contracts with the Civil Engineering and Development Department worth more than HK$38 million this year.

Sixty per cent of all consultancy projects over a six-month period from the Environmental Protection Department – worth a total of HK$69 million – were won by Arup.

Since January 2012, 45 per cent of all Planning Department contracts have been granted to Arup, which together were worth more than HK$126 million. The Highways Department has two outstanding contracts for the Hong Kong Link Road, worth HK$21.7 billion, both involving Arup as resident engineer.

Meanwhile, Arup is the government’s go-to consultant on its recent “smart city initiative”. Arup, of course, has many private-sector clients in the development and property business. Let’s hope the latest slip-up is a one-off, rather than the proverbial tip of the iceberg.