Hong Kong rail giant MTR Corp says subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction did substandard work in Sha Tin-Central link platform scandal
Allegations come just a day after rail operator claimed it did not know who improperly installed steel bars, or why they did so, on its HK$97.1 billion project
Hong Kong’s railway operator has singled out a subcontractor as the likely culprit behind the corner-cutting scandal which hit its HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link, just a day after claiming it did not know who did the shoddy work found on its platforms.
The U-turn came as lawmakers from across the political divide sought to launch an independent inquiry into the furore.
The MTR Corporation levelled the allegation against workers from Fang Sheung Construction, a subcontractor that handled steel bars on the city’s most expensive rail project, a day after the saying it did not know who cut them wrongly or why they did it.
The scandal centred on the installation of bars used for building a platform beneath Hung Hom station. They were found to have been cut to make it seem as if they had been screwed correctly into couplers on the platform, when they had not.
On Thursday, MTR projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung said it was Fang Sheung workers who cut them, according to information from the rail operator’s staff monitoring the project.
Wong said MTR staff did not see the bars being cut.
“But parts that had been cut away from the steel bars were placed in another location,” he said. “At that time there were only workers from Fang Sheung, thus we understood it was done by [them].”
The subcontractor’s workers explained they cut the bars for convenience, he added, as they had faced difficulties screwing them properly into couplers.
Wong said the installations in question had already been fixed.
The MTR Corp found cut bars on five occasions between August and December 2015. On the third occasion, in mid-December, when five steel bars were found to be substandard, the rail operator sent a warning email to the project’s contractor, Leighton Contractors (Asia), Wong said. The contractor passed the message to Fang Sheung.
Wong said no written records were made of the findings on the other four occasions, as fewer than five cut steel bars were found each time.
The main contractor, Leighton, had employed two subcontractors – Fang Sheung Construction and China Technology Corp – for the project. China Technology Corp said it was only responsible for pouring the concrete and had not handled any steel bars.
Fang Sheung Construction was registered as a limited company in August 2016 – a year after it took up the job with Leighton, according to information available at the Companies Registry.
The Post visited the company’s registered address, in an old industrial building in Tsuen Wan, on Thursday. There was no company signage and the shutters were pulled down. A worker from a nearby office said she rarely saw anyone walk into the registered office. “I think they only moved in here about a year ago,” she said.
Fang Sheung Construction is voluntarily registered with the Construction Industry Council as a subcontractor specialised in “reinforcement bar fixing”.
China Technology Corp said it was not related to the scandal while Leighton did not reply to inquiries on Thursday.
MTR Corp chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang on Thursday said Leighton should explain to the public what happened and ensure its work involving the project’s 26,000 couplers was being done properly.
The rail operator earlier pledged to submit a report on the incident to the government next week, and Ma said it would respect any decisions officials made.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said it was puzzling that the MTR Corp overturned its own statement overnight. He said the volte-face might have stemmed from frontline staff not keeping records when the substandard work was spotted.
“They can now only report the case to senior management and rely on their memory, which is really unreliable,” Lam said.
Pro-establishment legislator Michael Tien Puk-sun said that for Ma to publicly call on Leighton for more information showed the MTR Corp did not have all the information. “The records possessed by Leighton were probably unfavourable to Leighton,” Tien said. “Should [Legco] summon it to make a submission under oath, I guess we would hear something beyond expectation.”
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan wrote to the city's leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, asking her to appoint a judge to head an independent inquiry into the scandal. In her letter, Chan said the inquiry should find out who was responsible for the errors and look into the monitoring mechanisms between the MTR Corp and contractors, and the government and the corporation.
Chow Luen-kiu, of the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union, said it would be unfair for the MTR Corp or Leighton to try to lay the blame on workers.
“All site workers have to pass assessments and get registered before they can enter a site to work,” Chow noted. “There are supervisors on-site from the main contractors, and even MTR, to monitor the work.”
Hong Kong Construction Association chief executive Thomas Tse urged the government to plug what his association considered a loophole in the system. “There is not a statutory registration system for building subcontractors in Hong Kong. We have been pressing for it for a long time but the government just does not seem to listen,” he said.
Meanwhile, the MTR Corp confirmed reports of water leaks at the under-construction cross-border rail terminal in West Kowloon during Wednesday’s heavy rains. A spokesman said on Thursday that a blocked drain had led to the basement floor flooding. The spokesman said the leaks had not affected the station’s facilities or safety.