Hong Kong MTR

Former MTR projects director Philco Wong gets vote of confidence over role as president of Hong Kong Institution of Engineers

Council members also approve spending HK$300,000 to restore reputation of engineering profession

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2018, 2:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 August, 2018, 1:02pm

A former MTR Corporation projects director who resigned in the wake of a construction scandal has been given a vote of confidence to remain the president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers.

At a special meeting of the engineering professional body’s council last Friday, almost two-thirds of those taking part – 24 out of 38 – voted in support of Philco Wong Nai-keung remaining in office, according to internal documents obtained by the Post on Monday.

The council members also approved a motion to spend HK$300,000 (US$38,460) hiring a public relations agent to restore the reputation of the engineering profession, it was revealed.

The institution had more than 34,000 members in 2017, with its council made up of about 40.

“Now, it is up to Philco to decide if he will remain as president,” said Peter Wong, a former head of the institution.

The special vote was in response to Philco Wong’s call for the institution’s council members to determine his proposed resignation amid an outcry among engineers after his departure from the MTR.

The Post was unable to contact Wong, who had earlier said he would be travelling from August 22.

Wong was forced to relinquish his MTR job on August 7 when the government said it no longer held any trust in the senior management of Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project – the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin to Central rail link.

According to the internal documents, the institution received 47 messages from 78 members who demanded his resignation and 60 messages from 79 members supporting Wong as of August 17.

I am also angry over a plan to spend HK$300,000 … to help Philco Wong restore his reputation
Albert Lai, engineer

Albert Lai Kwong-tak, an engineer who called for Wong’s resignation, was disappointed at the results.

“The council doesn’t understand the public and engineering industry’s expectations,” Lai said.

“I am also angry over a plan to spend HK$300,000 on a public relations exercise to effectively help Philco Wong restore his reputation.”

A majority of voters also passed a key motion to seek clarifications on procedures for submitting revised drawings amid institution fears over any accompanying criminal liability.

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said there were established platforms for communication such as regular meetings with stakeholders including the institution on the matter. She added the department had yet to receive any formal request from the institution for a meeting to discuss the issue.

The government on August 7 accused the MTR Corp of concealing key facts and unapproved changes to the design for a diaphragm wall supporting a platform under construction at Hung Hom station – a project which was also plagued by the use of substandard steel bars and the disappearance of 2,000 couplers that connected those bars.

History repeats itself at Hong Kong’s scandal-plagued MTR Corp

The Buildings Ordinance stipulates that minor amendments which do not affect the overall structural stability of a building do not warrant any submission of revised drawings. But the institution has concerns over the definition of minor amendments following the MTR scandal.

Lo Wai-kwok, a lawmaker representing the engineering industry, said when enforcing the law, the government needed to strike a balance as the submission of revised drawings and subsequent approval could delay construction.

The rail fiasco sparked high-profile departures at the MTR Corp, with Wong and three general managers of the rail project resigning immediately and CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen announcing he would retire prematurely.

Their exits came after the corporation submitted a false report to the government concealing key facts and unapproved changes in the design for diaphragm walls on a platform under construction at Hung Hom station – a project which was also plagued by the use of substandard steel bars and the disappearance of 2,000 couplers that connected those bars.

Police are investigating the scandal.