Independent tree expert brought in to carry out assessment after Indonesian helper killed by falling branch in Hong Kong
More conflicts of interest in tree safety revealed, after death of Jumiati Supadi two weeks ago
An independent expert will inspect the tree that killed an Indonesian domestic helper two weeks ago, the Housing Authority said, as even more potential conflicts of interest emerged among the companies paid to prevent such tragedies.
The authority, on whose estate the accident happened, said a preliminary investigation had been completed and its findings handed to the government. It declined to disclose further details.
“The accident might involve judicial proceedings and insurance compensation. We cannot make public the details at the moment,” an authority spokesman said.
The authority did not say who the expert was or when the assessment would happen.
This came after a Post investigation found conflicts of interest among contractors were widespread under the authority’s tendering system. After the woman’s death, close connections between two contractors responsible for the maintenance of the tree in question came to light.
Further investigation found the two contractors were also awarded contracts in another region together this year.
According to the authority's list of tree-management contracts from 2017 to 2019, C.K. Garden – owned by Miranda Leung Yuen-yee – was awarded a HK$1.86 million tree risk assessment contract covering Tai Po, North district and Sha Tin. Gaia Tree Management Consultancy – co-owned by Chui Chu-hung, sole owner of City Landscaping – got a HK$3.81 million contract for remedial tree work in the same districts. Leung and Chui share the same registered address.
In total, the two companies got tree contracts worth HK$14.3 million from the authority in the two years.
The authority has a rule that contractors handling assessment and remedial works should not come from the same company.
Another pair of closely linked tree contractors won contracts worth HK$3.7 million, in Kowloon West and Sai Kung.
Muni Aborist – solely owned by Mike Leung Wing-keung – is responsible for the tree assessment in the areas, while Tins Landscaping – co-owned by Yau Sze-nga – takes care of the remedial work. Sources in the industry said the pair are married.
Both companies have the same secretary, Wong Wing-yan.
Mike Leung, who is also president of the Hong Kong chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture, declined to comment on the arrangement.
Emails to City Landscaping and an in-person visit to the listed address of Chui and Miranda Leung went unanswered.
Experts said the possible conflicts of interest undermined the tree management system.
Jim Chi-yung, a tree expert and geography professor at the Education University of Hong Kong, urged the government to make public the reason for the branch’s failure to avoid further tragedies and whether it was related to the contract tendering system.
“Trees inspected and pruned by a closely associated pair of companies may not be considered to have received proper professional care,” he said.
“If [the accident that killed Supadi] is related to the dubious system of tendering and appointment of contractors, [the authority] needs to rectify the problems promptly. Otherwise, more trees that have been improperly inspected or treated may fall and hurt people.”
Jumiati Supadi, 48, was killed by a 30kg falling branch from a 40-year-old Indian rubber tree at the Shun Lee Public Housing Estate in Sau Mau Ping on August 21.
It was the city’s fifth tree-related fatality in 10 years and raised questions as to why the Indian rubber tree, which had been reviewed by two contractors three times since January, had not been properly managed.
The Post requested assessment details submitted by contractor City Landscaping but the authority declined, citing possible judicial proceedings and insurance claims under way.
At least two tree experts criticised the pruning work carried out by C.K. Garden, saying its tree management approach would result in further rotting of the remaining branches.
“Either it’s because they just want to be irresponsibly fast, or they just don’t have the knowledge or skills,” Jim said.
The authority said the directors of the contractors in each region were different, and marital relations were not among the criteria for assessing a potential conflict of interest.
It added that there was a third contractor who would review the tree assessment contractor’s work before works are assigned, to help guarantee no conflict of interest.