More vigorous monitoring needed for public works contracts
The scandal surrounding falsified concrete test results for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge has now spread to other projects, with the contractor getting little more than a slap on the wrist
The impact of the corruption scandal at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge did not fully emerge until recently, when the investigation was widened into other projects involving the contractor in question. It was found that it might have also falsified concrete test results in 55 other projects, raising serious questions over compliance and monitoring. Earlier, the arrest of 21 employees of Jacobs China for allegedly faking test results of the bridge project had already undermined public confidence in public works safety. The latest findings by a government department are no less disturbing. About 14 problematic test samples were found at the tunnel along the Central-Wan Chai Bypass under construction. Also affected are the Hong Kong Children’s Hospital, road improvement works, landslide prevention projects and government staff quarters.
The government quickly sought to reassure the public, referring to the results in which most of the 440,000 concrete tests from the 55 projects did not contain any abnormalities. Officials said the 130 suspect samples in question only accounted for 0.03 per cent of the samples tested, adding that even those did not affect compliance with government requirements. But it would not be surprising if people remain unconvinced. On Wednesday night, it was revealed that 20 more “abnormal” concrete test results were discovered at the bridge, bringing the total number to 346.
Questions have been raised as to whether the government should go further than just banning the company in question from bidding for public works contracts for one year. Given the widening impact of the scandal, officials should be prepared to impose punishment that reflects the gravity of the problem.
No less important is the need of a more effective monitoring mechanism on the performance of contractors. Understandably, the government cannot be expected to do everything. But as it turns to the private sector for certain services, it must ensure standards are met. The problems would have been noticed earlier had there been more vigorous monitoring of the contractor’s work. The current approach appears to have left room for abuses.