MTR works scandals on Sha Tin to Central link are a wake-up call on ‘grey areas’ in regulations
Reports on the substandard work on the MTR’s HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin to Central rail link have sparked concerns about construction safety (“Independent panel to begin public preliminary hearing in late September over Hong Kong’s Sha Tin-Central rail link scandal” September 10). They have also triggered debate on whether the government should tighten the procedures for design revisions to major construction projects. I believe that such restrictions are needed.
Ensuring public safety should be of utmost importance for major construction projects. Your reports have quoted a former Hong Kong Institution of Engineers president (HKIE), as well as a structural and geotechnical engineer and HKIE member, as mentioning “grey areas” in Hong Kong’s buildings laws.
At present, engineers are empowered to proceed with minor changes to building superstructure. But what if what they classify as “minor” is considered to be “major” by the Buildings Department? This difference of opinion, even if related to changes that seem small, could affect the stability of the construction and pose a threat to public safety.
The MTR construction problems were revealed well before the Sha Tin-Central link began operations, but we may not always be this fortunate, and the consequences could be disastrous.
Some may argue that the restrictions will cause delays to construction and thus a rise in costs, leading to an increase in property prices. While the housing problem is very serious in Hong Kong, it should not take priority over public safety.
The government should provide clear guidelines to the engineers, so there are no more “grey areas”. The extent to which engineers are empowered to make decisions should be clarified. Meanwhile, the government should be able to more closely monitor construction projects in the interest of public safety.
The series of scandals surrounding the MTR is a wake-up call for Hong Kong to revise the current regulations dealing with major construction projects that affect the public interest.
John Chan, Ma On Shan