‘Not satisfactory’: Hong Kong officials lament MTR Corporation’s lateness submitting report on shoddy work scandal at To Kwa Wan station
Matthew Cheung, standing in for Carrie Lam, says rail giant cited public holiday as reason for late submission
Hong Kong’s acting leader has voiced dissatisfaction with the rail operator’s delay in handing over a report on one of three shoddy building work scandals it faces, on grounds that Monday was a public holiday.
But Matthew Cheung Kin-chung refused to say if the government was “powerless” against the MTR Corporation, or if it would punish it for the delay.
Responding to questions on the MTR Corp’s failure to submit the report on substandard work found inside To Kwa Wan station – part of the Sha Tin-Central rail link – he lamented the tardiness.
“[The MTR Corp] should have submitted the report [on Monday] but, regrettably, it has promised to hand it in [on Tuesday] morning. This is not ideal, we know,” Cheung, standing in for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor during her trip to Europe, said.
The rail operator said on Monday it would not submit the report, because of the Tuen Ng public holiday, but it would hand it in on Tuesday morning.
“The delay in submitting the report by MTR Corp certainly is not satisfactory,” Cheung said, after being pressed for a third time on his response to the delay.
The rail firm admitted last week it found a wall on a platform at To Kwa Wan to have “deviated” from design, but said there was no risk to safety. That deviation was the subject of the late report.
But a lawmaker, who claimed to have been informed by a frontline construction worker, alleged the wall had been “shaved thin”, with reinforcement bars and concrete removed, in April.
The To Kwa Wan issues are not the only work scandal affecting the MTR Corp.
The semi-privatised rail giant has also been asked to submit a report on Tuesday on excavation work at the Exhibition Centre station of the link. Reports surfaced last Sunday that work there had been halted due to insufficient underground support work.
And the government has set up a judge-led inquiry into a third scandal, related to work on the same link under Hung Hom station, where steel reinforcement bars were cut short to fake proper installation on new platforms.
Cheung said the government was looking for a second person to join former judge Michael Hartmann on the inquiry.
“We have to choose carefully, to ensure the person does not have any conflict of interest … who has a certain degree of status in society and recognisability, so it is not easy,” he said.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, who chairs the Legislative Council’s railways subcommittee, said the government should have threatened Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor on the Hung Hom job, with the loss of its operating licence much earlier, given the sheer amount of negative press and public outcry.
Leighton has not commented on the Hung Hom scandal since it broke. The MTR said it cannot be forced to, because of a confidentiality agreement.
Only on Monday did Cheung demand Leighton submit a report addressing safety concerns within a week. He threatened that if problems were found in their explanation there would be repercussions, including barring them from bidding for government work for a period of time, and even removing their licence.
Tien said officials should have acted much earlier given the media attention, adding: “The government has the sword of the state to make them do so.”
He added adopting good attitudes and fulfilling obligations when responding to issues of public concern should be stipulated in government contracts.
Tien, a former chair of rail operator KCR – before its merger with the MTR Corp – also suggested the government create an independent railways development agency to supervise the entire system for works, including tender regulations.
He said the MTR Corp’s tendering regime and the government’s system were completely different, with the former’s less stringent in terms of supervisory requirements.