Hong Kong MTR

Rail link construction scandal firm Leighton lobbies behind the scenes but refuses to answer Hong Kong lawmakers’ questions in public

Leighton Contractors (Asia) linked to shoddy work on HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link lobbying for support, but will not attend meeting with lawmakers on Friday

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 11:28pm

The main contractor at the centre of the construction scandal plaguing Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project has been lobbying hard behind the scenes to win lawmakers’ support, while continuing to refuse to address the matter in public.

Leighton Contractors (Asia) has reportedly focused its attention on some of its harshest critics in the Legislative Council, among them Michael Tien Puk-sun who said the firm last week invited him to attend a private dinner.

Tien heads Legco’s railways subcommittee, a meeting of which Leighton has declined to attend on Friday. The subcommittee is investigating shoddy work at the Hung Hom and Exhibition Centre stations of the HK$97.1 billion (US$13 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.

The lawmaker, who was contacted by a public relations firm on Leighton’s behalf, said he had told the contractor he would attend the dinner on two conditions, that he be allowed to record the meeting, the result of which he would make public, and that the firm attend Friday’s subcommittee meeting.

“I told them that if they could agree to the terms I made then I could go and meet them,” he said.

However, Tien said Leighton staff never responded to his conditions, and he subsequently discovered from Legco’s secretariat that the firm had refused to attend on Friday.

“From their reply to Legco, I guess Leighton already called off this meeting,” he said.

A government-appointed commission of inquiry will investigate the Hung Hom saga. Leighton did not reply to the Post’s inquiries.

Executive Council member and New People’s Party’s lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the same public relations firm approached her a few days ago inviting her to meet one of Leighton’s senior executives.

“But I have already turned down the meeting request,” she said. “It’s inappropriate for Leighton to lobby for lawmakers’ support individually.”

She said the construction company should openly make an account at Legco, or to the government.

Engineering sector lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok, of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, admitted he met Leighton representatives a few days ago but said they did not touch on the details of the scandals.

“I avoided talking about the sensitive details of the case as we should leave it to the commission of inquiry to unearth the whole truth,” he said.

Lo insisted it was not a lobbying exercise by the company.

Construction waste was used in Hong Kong MTR Sha Tin-Central rail link station

“We mainly talked about how Leighton should face the media and the public as society is highly concerned about the firm’s responsibilities over the recent scandals,” he said.

“I asked them to consider making an open account to the public because the political atmosphere is really unfavourable to them.

“Of course they know how the scandals have undermined the firm’s image. But they told me that as they were bound by Leighton’s corporate policy there were restrictions on what they can say in public.”

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan, of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said he and several DAB lawmakers had been approached by the public relations firm for a meeting with Leighton.

However, he said a party meeting would be held on Friday afternoon to decide whether they would attend. “We haven’t decided it yet. We’ll discuss this matter tomorrow,” he said.

Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation accused of deceiving public over construction blunders for HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link

The public relations firm is run by Andy Ho On-tat, information coordinator for then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen from 2006 to 2012.

In a separate development, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE), of which MTR Corp projects director Philco Wong is president, said it will set up an expert task force to study professional standards and conduct arising from the Hung Hom scandal.

In a statement on Thursday, it said the task force would make recommendations to the institution after the commission of inquiry released its investigation report.

“Should misconduct of any individual member be found, the HKIE will follow up in accordance with the existing mechanism,” it said.

The institution said that because of Wong’s position in MTR Corp, he would not be involved in following up on the case.

While Leighton maintains its silence, MTR Corporation chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang has called for the firm to come clean over its responsibilities.

At Hung Hom station, which involved a HK$5.2 billion contract, workers were found cutting steel bars short to fake proper installation at the platform.

Leighton has been accused of instructing workers to carry out the fake installation work, and the Highways Department has asked the police to investigate.

At the Exhibition Centre station, where Leighton partnered with China State Construction in a joint venture, MTR Corp admitted workers there had dug deeper than allowed before the proper installation of underground support in the form of I-beams.

Despite two warnings of non-compliance in May and June, the contractor continued with its flawed method of excavation until the faulty work was exposed last month.