My Take

Elite contractors can have their cake and eat it too

The big firms who bid for government contracts seem to get away with wrongdoing, time and time again

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 1:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 2:13am

For a few elite contractors, it seems our government provides an iron rice bowl that no amount of outlandish wrongdoing can break.

Why is that? Is it because they are so good that no one else can do it? Is it bureaucratic inertia? Or is it something more troubling? That this keeps happening just makes you wonder.

It transpired that lab service contractor Jacobs China, having been found to have altered the data of concrete samples for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge last July, suffered no immediate consequence and was even awarded two more contracts worth HK$18 million. Yet, the breaches were considered serious enough that officials had to call in the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Ultimately, 21 company employees were arrested for their alleged roles in faking the concrete test results taken from the bridge. It was only after the high-profile arrests that the government earlier this month suspended the American firm from bidding for public-sector contracts for one year. It was, in other words, no more than a slap on the wrist.

Separately, another major international consultant, Arup, was barred last year from contract-bidding for three months after it was caught leaking confidential government data to a client who is a major developer.

Arup consulted for the government on the controversial public housing project in Wang Chau. It also worked for New World Development on a private development project near the Wang Chau site. Somehow, confidential data on the government’s projected population and employment figures were leaked to New World, which used the information in its application to the Town Planning Board to rezone a green-belt site for its own development. Arup blamed it on the negligence of staff, and the government essentially said, “Oh, that’s too bad, you need to maintain a proper ‘firewall’ on files between clients”.

Hong Kong section of mega-bridge set to open

Presumably, that was what Jacobs told the government too, that it was all the work of a few bad apples among the staff, and nothing to do with management.

It’s been a long-standing complaint among local small and medium-sized companies that the government only favours a handful of big multinational consultants and gives them all the juicy contracts. It seems once you are on the list of favoured contractors, you can do no wrong. The unaccountability of senior officials is conveniently extended to those contractors as well.

Nice job if you can get it.