West Kowloon Cultural District
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The museum has drawn controversy since it was announced in December by Carrie Lam, and it has intensified after internal documents showed architect Rocco Yim (left) had commissioned an engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study 20 days before he was appointed to spearhead the design. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Secret study on Hong Kong’s Palace Museum site revealed in new twist

Details of ground work only made known more than two months after contract was awarded, raising more questions about transparency

The controversy surrounding the Palace Museum project took a new twist yesterday when it was revealed yesterday that details of a HK$3 million geotechnical study to prepare for construction were only made known to members of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority more than two months after the contract was awarded.

Internal documents obtained by FactWire News Agency also showed that architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee had commissioned an engineering firm to conduct a feasibility study 20 days before he was appointed to spearhead the design, adding to the barrage of questions about the transparency of the project.

The authority denied it had tried to hide the expenses, maintaining payment was made from development budget and that it did not involve public infrastructure works.

The HK$3.5 billion museum drew controversy when it was announced in December by former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The secrecy of the deal and lack of a consultation – even though the Jockey Club, not taxpayers, was picking up the tab – caused a political storm and prompted the authority to launch a three-month exercise to gather public opinion.

FactWire alleged yesterday that the authority had tried to perform ground investigation (GI) works at the future museum site in the West Kowloon Cultural District in early September.

“The GI work is also used to explore underground soil and condition by the in-situ and laboratory testing,” a document submitted by the authority to engineering consultant Arup read.

The document added the scope of the study consisted of “nine ground investigation bore holes at the Project P area” as a “supplement to the previous phase of GI works”.

Six firms were invited to submit bids for the HK$3 million contract.

The authority website indicates that a HK$1.74 million contract was awarded to French geotechnical contractor Bachy Soletanche Group on October 28.

But Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, who is deputy chairwoman on a Legislative Council joint subcommittee that monitors the arts and cultural hub, said the details were not available when she accessed the website on January 3.

“I don’t think it could have been a careless mistake,” she said.

Another question, Chan said, was how the authority would settle the bill. While it was granted a one-off injection of HK$21.6 billion in 2008, the money did not cover such expenses.

She also cast doubts on Yim’s role in the project.

“Either he has too much money, or he has a crystal ball in his hands. Otherwise why would he commission Arup to conduct a feasibility study before he had his position confirmed [by the authority]?” she said.

In response, the authority insisted the ground works were carried out in accordance with its practice and procurement guidelines.

“Site investigation is a crucial step for all projects. It is only prudent to study the ground condition to avoid any future issues, and information obtained from the site investigation is essential no matter how the sites will be used,” it said.

It also explained that Yim’s company, Rocco Design Architects, was appointed in June to provide advance consultancy services.

The ground works were then conducted “in order to establish the geotechnical engineering design parameters for the future development at the captioned sites”.