Transport minister and MTR chief under pressure from Hong Kong legislators to resign over construction scandals
Motion calling for Frank Chan and Frederick Ma to step down passes Legco’s railways subcommittee by 9-7 margin, as pro-establishment lawmakers largely quiet on issue
Hong Kong’s transport minister and the chief of its railway operator faced mounting calls to resign on Friday as they were grilled by legislators over a series of construction scandals plaguing the city’s most expensive rail project.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan and MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang were at the Legislative Council to answer questions over shoddy construction work at stations along the HK$97.1 billion (US$13 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.
“Secretary Frank Chan, you are also a board member of the MTR Corp, why do you appear as if you are not responsible for these scandals? Do you think that you need to step down?” said lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, of the localist party HK First, who led a chorus of criticism from pro-democracy legislators.
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Meanwhile, a motion calling for Chan and Ma to step down from their posts passed Legco’s railways subcommittee by a slim 9-7 margin, as pro-establishment lawmakers stayed largely quiet on the issue.
The non-binding motion, moved by Gary Fan Kwok-wai of the Neo Democrats, came as the subcommittee scrutinised shoddy work at the To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre stations of the link.
The motion also condemned the Transport and Housing Bureau and the MTR Corp for serious dereliction of duty in supervising the construction work on the rail link, as well as contractors for putting workers’ safety at risk. It called for reducing the salaries of MTR Corp senior executives.
Both Chan and Ma refused to say whether they would resign.
Chan said he was waiting for results from a government-appointed commission of inquiry that was looking into the scandals.
“When this commission of inquiry delivers its findings, I am sure the public will have a judgment,” he said.
The transport chief called MTR Corp’s reporting lapses concerning the shoddy work “unacceptable”.
“The unauthorised work at the Exhibition Centre station reflected the inadequacies of MTR Corp about its supervision of the construction and reporting system. It is regrettable to see the MTR Corp failing to ensure the contractor complies with the approved design,” he said.
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At the Exhibition Centre station, workers dug 3 metres deeper than allowed before the proper installation of underground support in the form of I-beams. Despite two warnings of non-compliance in May and early last month, the contractor continued with its flawed method of excavation until the faulty work was exposed.
Ma told lawmakers the MTR Corp would end the deficiencies and review the company’s reporting system, saying public safety was the rail giant’s top concern.
“There have been inadequacies about the MTR’s reporting system to the highest level. This issue needs to be improved, and the MTR board already has demanded management enhance its supervision of the rail projects,” he said.
Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor for the Exhibition Centre station in a joint venture with China State Construction, was also criticised as “totally lacking professional integrity” for refusing to attend the Legco meeting.
Leighton, also the main contractor for the scandal-ridden Hung Hom station, where it is accused of instructing workers to cut steel bars short to fake proper installation at the platform, refused to comment.
At To Kwa Wan, steel bars involving a total area of 60 square metres had been removed by another contractor, a joint venture of Hsin Chong Group Holdings and Samsung C&T, in an “unauthorised” manner from a wall that spanned two levels.
Steven Meredith, a board member of the joint venture, denied any disregard for public safety and said bar removal was an error.
Pressured by the subcommittee’s chairman Michael Tien Puk-sun, MTR Corp’s projects director Philco Wong Nai-keung said the company would consider banning Leighton from future work.
Wong, who supervises the Sha Tin-Central link, also faced calls to resign.
“Dr Wong, I really doubt whether you have the determination and ability for this job. You earn about HK$8 million a year but the rail project you are in charge of is now plagued with a series of scandals. Do you think you are competent to resolve these problems and monitor the project well?” said legislator Tanya Chan of the Civic Party.