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Hong Kong MTR

Stamp out ‘organised fraud’ in MTR rail projects, lawmaker demands amid HK$97.1 billion link scandal

Legislature’s railways panel chief suggests setting up independent railway development department to improve supervision

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2018, 5:44pm

Lawmakers across Hong Kong’s political spectrum on Wednesday called for a better monitoring system for the city’s rail projects a day after a senior management shuffle at the operator over its Sha Tin-Central link construction scandal.

The controversy hitting the MTR Corporation and its HK$97.1 billion rail project led on Tuesday to three immediate resignations and the early departure of its CEO, Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.

The government, which owns 75 per cent of the MTR Corp, asked police to investigate “huge discrepancies” and “conflicting reports” in the company’s submissions on the project.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel, on Wednesday described the problems as an “organised fraud”. He suggested the rail firm’s chief executive directly monitor the quality of construction works with a separate group, so that staff at lower levels could easily convey any issues.

Meanwhile, lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress, said the Highways Department mainly cared about the construction progress and counted on the rail company to monitor its quality. He believed the current inspection mechanism placed too much faith in the company and its paperwork.

“All the trust was put in the documents,” Lau explained on a radio show. “The MTR Corp said it was kept in the dark because they believed the documents submitted by Leighton or other contractors.” Leighton Contractors (Asia) is the project’s main contractor.

The lawmaker said there seemed to be layers of supervision in the existing system yet not enough frontline inspectors to check the works on site. He believed many staff spent most of their time working on meetings and doing paperwork.

Leighton did not give a reply to the public until now, he added.

According to its report submitted to the government in June, the MTR Corp said construction of the diaphragm walls, which support a platform built below the existing Hung Hom station, was done in accordance with the approved design and 23,500 couplers were installed on the platform. The building works were signed off by inspectors from the rail firm.

But in July, the railway giant handed in drawings showing the design for the diaphragm walls had been modified without the Buildings Department’s advance approval. The changes included shortening the walls and using some 2,000 fewer couplers.

MTR Corp conducts full probe into safety lapses along HK$97.1 billion rail link

The government cited the MTR Corp’s earlier reply that the design needed to be modified due to “difficulty in construction”. And Leong said on Tuesday that Leighton had revised the design without telling the company.

Jason Poon Chuk-hung, managing director of project subcontractor China Technology Corp, said he believed the rail giant’s frontline workers and middle management were responsible workers.

“They should have already noticed the problems,” Poon claimed. “The question was whether there were actions taken in the decision-making process such that frontline workers had to follow the order.”

Lam called on both chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang and transport minister Frank Chan Fan to step down, noting he would propose invoking the Powers and Privileges Ordinance to investigate the matter when Legco resumed in October. He added he would table motions of no confidence against the two men.

Lau, however, only agreed that Ma should go. The DAB lawmaker said he needed to look at the government’s investigation results before deciding on Chan.

But fellow pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of Legco’s railways panel, believed both should stay. Tien said it was “emotional” demanding Ma step down because he had to stay on to handle the daily operations and the scheduled opening of the cross-border express rail link in September.

Noting Chan had taken office a year ago, he said the minister should instead revamp the monitoring system by setting up an independent railway development department.

“The restructuring needs a person like Frank Chan,” Tien added. “After what’s happened, he should understand a lot of things and learned lessons.”