My Take

It’s time to read the riot act to cheating contractors

A slap on the wrist for faking test results for large and small infrastructure projects is no longer enough; these firms must be brought to book

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 June, 2017, 12:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 June, 2017, 12:56am

So, it turns out a much-favoured government consultant has been producing fake test data for years. It’s bad enough that staff at Jacobs China have allegedly conspired to extensively alter the data of concrete samples from the mega Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge project, leading to 21 arrests by the Independent Commission against Corruption. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the lab service contractor.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department said Jacobs China had doctored a total of 130 tests at 55 other projects, including the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital and a tunnel along the Central-Wan Chai bypass, near the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter.

Worse, officials now suspect an extra 116 tests from the bridge could have been compromised, on top of the 210 already exposed.

Presumably, the government will have to recheck sites at those 55 projects, in addition to the millions of dollars that are being incurred from carrying out new tests at the cross-border bridge. What will be the total cost?

Jacobs China has been barred from bidding for government contracts for one year for the bridge fiasco. But Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said the contractor should be banned permanently in light of the new disclosure.

Hong Kong bridge scandal widens with revelation that concrete tests were faked at 55 other projects

Well, that would be a start. The ICAC needs to investigate how high up the rot goes within the company and whether any government officials might have been compromised. This is despite assurances from the ICAC that no public officials were implicated when those 21 arrests were made.

But even where criminality ends, civil liability begins. There is clearly negligence on a significant scale in failing to monitor its own staff by the senior management of Jacobs China. Likewise, department officials must bear some responsibility for failing to supervise the contractor.

Department officials would love to sweep everything under the rug when the ICAC finishes its investigations. But that won’t do. The new government needs an accounting of those responsible. The contractor and its parent company based in the United States should be held responsible for the costs of retesting all those sites. It would be unfair if taxpayers end up paying the bill.

Meanwhile, the government needs to overhaul its long-standing practice of handing out juicy jobs to just a handful of favoured international contractors. All you need is one or two bad apples to completely mess up so many costly public projects.