Investigation into HK$97 billion Hong Kong rail scandal ‘needs to have teeth’ so firms are compelled to reveal everything, says executive councillor
Lawmaker Wong Kowk-kin calls for commission of inquiry into Sha Tin-Central link as the Post learns Carrie Lam could be on verge of appointing judge-led panel with power to issue subpoenas
A member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet on Monday called for the government to launch a commission of inquiry into the scandal surrounding the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link.
A subcontractor, Fang Sheung Construction, has been accused of cutting corners during the installation of a platform under Hung Hom station, with rail operator MTR Corporation reporting five separate occasions of faulty work between August and September 2015.
Lam could announce the creation of a judge-led investigation panel, which would have the power of subpoena, as early as Tuesday morning, a source close to the government told the Post.
Such a move, which the source said could take place before the weekly Executive Council meeting, would put the inquiry on a par with the one that looked into the deadly 2012 Lamma ferry accident.
The hope is a high profile investigation could finally encourage Leighton Contractors (Asia), which had overall responsibility for the installation of the platform, to break its silence on the matter.
Making the appeal on Monday, executive councillor and Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin said the investigation needed to be “with teeth”.
“If the power to subpoena is needed, I believe the government should grant it,” Wong said. “Because, the most dissatisfying part of the incident is that responsible parties have ‘hid in their shells’, no one has told the truth.”
Without the power to compel testimony, Wong said it may be hard to force the MTR Corp and Leighton Contractors (Asia) to give more details on what happened.
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Last week, the MTR Corp named subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction as those responsible cutting corners when carrying out its HK$5.2 billion contract to build platforms under the existing Hung Hom station for the new rail link.
The subcontractor is accused of cutting steel bars short to fake proper installation, when they could not be screwed into couplers on the platform.
Wong, however, dismissed a pro-democracy camp proposal to set up a separate investigation in the Legislative Council, and said it would give rise to “political conflicts”.
Wong told the Post on Monday that it is very likely the government will go ahead with the investigation, as it is a “political necessity” amid a growing public outcry.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said that a “commission of inquiry” would have more power than an “independent review committee”.
“The key figures who may not cooperator can be summoned,” she said. “At the same time, whistle-blowers can be protected.”
Under the Commissions of Inquiry Ordinance, arrest warrants could be issued to individuals who refused to attend the commission’s hearing. Those who refused to give up documents requested by the commission can also face three months in jail and a fine of HK$1,000.
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Tanya Chan also said individuals will not be liable for civil and criminal proceedings by giving the commission a true account of the incident.
A commission of inquiry investigated the Lamma ferry disaster on National Day, 2012, which took 39 lives.
The government, however, decided to form an independent review committee to investigate bus safety in Hong Kong, after the fatal bus accident in February this year that claimed 19 lives.
Speaking at the Legislative Council on Monday, transport chief Frank Chan Fan refused to confirm if the government will consider granting the power to subpoena to the yet-to-be-formed committee or commission.
Frank Chan also said he was not told about emails from another subcontractor involved in the rail link project from September last year.
The Transport and Housing Bureau admitted last week that subcontractor China Technology Corp, which was tasked with pouring concrete, had contacted the government last year for a meeting concerning the construction of the new platforms under Hung Hom station.
Three days later, however, the subcontractor called off the meeting, saying “the problem has been solved”.
The subcontractor told the Post last week the meeting was cancelled after it met “top figures” at Leighton and discussed remedial actions.
“When our colleagues received the emails, they immediately passed them on to relevant staff for following up, I was not informed about that process,” Frank Chan said.
He also refused to comment on suggestions officials had “not done their job” in alerting their superiors, and told reporters to “refer to past press statements”.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung