Hong Kong MTR

Pressure grows on contractor for scandal-hit Sha Tin-Central rail link as Hong Kong government checks seven other projects

Leighton Contractors (Asia) given one-week deadline to submit report to authorities, while under expanded scrutiny over seven other projects

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2018, 7:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 4:57pm

The main contractor at the centre of a series of construction scandals plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project has been given a week to submit a report addressing safety concerns, while coming under expanded scrutiny over other projects it is handling for the government.

The city’s No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, said on Monday that the government had sent a letter to Leighton Contractors (Asia) demanding an explanation for problems at the Hung Hom station of the Sha Tin-Central rail link where steel reinforcement bars were cut short to fake proper installation on new platforms.

“If the bureau is dissatisfied or finds Leighton to be problematic, it can take regulatory actions, including barring Leighton from bidding in government construction project tenders for a period of time, and even removing its licence,” Cheung said, setting next Tuesday as the deadline for a satisfactory reply.

Leighton, which won a HK$5.2 billion (US$667 million) contract to expand Hung Hom station as part of the MTR Corporation’s HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link, was also involved in seven other government contracts, according to the Development Bureau.

Speaking at a public event on Monday, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said four government departments had been checking work done by Leighton.

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“So far, we have not seen any structural or quality problems,” Wong said.

The seven contracts included work on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge’s boundary crossing facilities, the Central to Wan Chai Bypass project and the Tseung Kwan O to Lam Tin Tunnel.

Leighton had subcontracted some of the station work at Hung Hom and a report on the corner-cutting scandal released last week by the MTR Corp failed to reach a conclusion on who was responsible.

Cheung also ruled out including two fresher scandals involving two other stations on the line in an investigation by a yet to be formed commission of inquiry. Reports surfaced over the past seven days about halted excavation work at the Exhibition Centre station site and a wall being “shaved thin” at To Kwa Wan station.

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“If the scope is too large, [the investigation] will not be focused enough,” Cheung said.

“The incident in Hung Hom is clearly complicated, and we need more information and facts on those at To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre.”

Asked if government officials monitoring the MTR had failed to perform their duties, Cheung said the administration would do a serious follow-up and investigate whether anyone was responsible.

The MTR Corp was supposed to submit a report on the To Kwa Wan problem to the government on Monday, but delayed it to Tuesday on account of Monday being a public holiday.

The Highways Department expressed its “disappointment and dissatisfaction” at the delay.

The rail operator has also been asked to hand in another report on the Exhibition Centre station before Wednesday.

MTR’s ties with contractor under scrutiny in corner-cutting scandal

Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced on June 12 that a commission of inquiry led by former judge Michael Hartmann would be formed to investigate the Hung Hom scandal, Cheung said on Sunday that the government was finishing “preparation work” before seeking the approval of the Executive Council, Lam’s cabinet. Lam had said the inquiry would take about six months.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said Cheung was “closing doors” with his comments, and the commission’s investigation should cover the entire rail link project.

“Even if there are political risks, the government should launch a holistic investigation,” Wu said.

Officials “cannot be afraid” of delaying the commencement of the link, as it is a matter of public safety, he added.

But pro-establishment lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen of the architectural constituency agreed with Cheung that there was no need to include the newer scandals into the commission’s inquiry.

“If you do that there is no way to start the investigation,” Tse said.

He said issues with construction work could surface at any time and not every one should be investigated by the commission.