Hong Kong MTR

Commission investigating shoddy work on Sha Tin-Central link wilfully ignored identity of workers involved, says plaintiff in judicial review

  • Commission chose not to identify workers who were photographed cutting steel bars, thus ignoring ‘a matter that lies squarely at the heart of inquiry’
  • Judicial review is being brought against the commission by psychology student Alfred Wu, 19
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2019, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2019, 3:24pm

A university student has mounted a court challenge against the commission dedicated to investigating a construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive railway line.

Alfred Wu Chi-hung accused the commission of failing to identify the workers at fault.

Wu argued that, having neglected to highlight the role of the workers, the commission of inquiry into alleged shoddy work on the Sha Tin-Central link had ignored “a matter that lies squarely at the heart” of the probe and the interests of the public, according to a court document made available on Wednesday.

Wu, 19, a psychology student from Chinese University, lodged his judicial review at the High Court on Monday.

Supervision on major rail link questioned after more shoddy work unearthed

The ongoing commission, chaired by former judge Michael Hartmann, began in October following a series of damaging media reports that cast light on substandard work involving a platform and walls in the HK$97.1 billion line’s Hung Hom Station.

The press earlier revealed – as later confirmed by the inquiry – that some steel bars were cut short to fake proper installation, when they could not be screwed into couplers on the platform, in a scandal that engulfed contractors, the MTR Corporation and government.

The court document on Wednesday said that on day 30 of the inquiry, an assistant inspector from the MTR Corp, Wong Kai-ming, was asked by a lawyer representing a subcontractor, to identify two workers who appeared to be cutting corners in a photograph.

But the lawyer’s attempt was foiled by Hartmann, who said it was not necessary as it was not the inquiry’s job to lay blame.

“I’m not interested in getting close to issues of criminal or public liability,” he said.

‘Substandard work is still safe’ on Hong Kong’s priciest railway

In his judicial challenge, Wu argued through his lawyers that the workers’ identities were within the commission’s legal duty to inquire after, saying that they fell within the “facts and circumstances” of the construction.

He said the commission had, up to the point of Hartmann’s decision, appeared to be keen to find out this information.

One of the key issues for the commission, he added, was to find out whether the workers in the photograph were actually cutting the steel bar and, if so, why they had done such things. But without doing so, those questions would go unanswered.

“By making the ruling, the [commission] has outrageously and flagrantly ignored or denied the terms of reference to investigate the matter in the interest of the general public,” he said.

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Wu said that, absent those details, the commission would also not be able to know which part of the supervisory system had gone wrong.

“The chairman has, thus, ignored the fact that … it resolves a matter which lies squarely at the heart of the inquiry,” he said.

The question the judicial review deals with was raised by Simon So Shun-yan, who represents China Technology, one of the subcontractors on the rail link.

The firm’s managing director, Jason Poon Chuk-hung, said the terms of the inquiry had clearly avoided any criminal aspect, so they respected Hartmann’s ruling.

He also said his company urged police and relevant authorities to investigate further separately, so that a criminal probe could go beyond witness’ testimonies at the inquiry.

The MTR Corp would not comment on the matter.

A spokesman from the Transport and Housing Bureau said: “As legal proceedings are in progress, it is not appropriate for us to make any comments.”

Wu, the court document said, lives in Chai Wan, so he takes MTR trains on a regular basis to get to his university in Sha Tin.