Expand Sha Tin-Central link shoddy work inquiry to include key witness, Hong Kong lawmaker urges
Legislator Tanya Chan says subcontractor working on Hung Hom station’s north approach tunnels should give evidence as joints showed similar problems to faulty steel works being investigated
To “find out the whole truth”, a high-level inquiry into the construction scandal at Hong Kong’s most expensive rail link should be expanded to include a key witness, a lawmaker has urged ahead of this month’s hearings.
Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan said Wing & Kwong Steel Engineering Co – a subcontractor hired by Leighton Contractors (Asia) for steel works at the HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central link’s Hung Hom station – was missing from the list of witnesses for the inquiry. The engineering firm worked on the joints connecting the tunnels of the station’s north approach to the platform, which were also found to be faulty.
“I think the inquiry should also look into the shoddy work at the station’s north approach tunnels because it showed similar problems. Wing & Kwong should also be called to give evidence at the upcoming hearings next month,” she said.
Chan made the call as the independent commission of inquiry into the faulty steel works surrounding the Hung Hom extended station conducted its preliminary hearing last month.
The commission was formed by the government to look into the construction scandal that erupted in May involving the cutting of steel bars to fake proper installation into couplers in the station platform. Leighton, which has remained silent on the controversy, was the main contractor in charge of building the platforms and the tunnels’ connection joints.
But the north approach tunnels, under the same contract, were not mentioned in the commission’s opening address nor were any subcontractors involved called as witnesses.
This was despite a then MTR Corporation general manager admitting to the Legislative Council in July that some steel bars were not connected to joints in the station’s 135-metre north approach tunnels.
Concrete work was completed in March. The faulty steel work was later unearthed due to persistent seepage problems at some connection joints.
Under MTR procedures, no concreting work could be carried out unless the transport operator certified that the steel work complied with standards. The rail giant failed to say who gave the order for the concreting work to go ahead.
Chan said commission chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent Court of Final Appeal judge, should also look into the construction issues arising from the tunnels’ connection joints because it was covered by the same contract and exposed similar problems.
“The faulty work at the tunnels raises questions as to whether it concerns a systemic flaw of the management of MTR Corp as a project manager. I don’t rule out the possibility of a cover-up or negligence by the involved parties. I think the commission should find out the whole truth,” she said.
Chan added that she might write a letter to Hartmann if it was appropriate for an outsider to make a request.
So far, more than 40 witnesses from nine parties have been invited to give statements, including people from the Transport and Housing Bureau, the Highways Department, the MTR Corp, Leighton and three subcontractors for the station platform: Intrafor, Fang Sheung Construction and China Technology Corporation.
The commission’s secretariat said on Tuesday: “The inquiry conducted by the commission is deemed to be a judicial proceeding. It would not be appropriate therefore for the commission to respond to the questions raised.”
October 22 will be the first day of the substantive hearing, which will continue on weekdays, excluding public holidays. On November 17, the commission will take a break and resume on November 22.
The construction scandal led to an overhaul of top management at the MTR Corp, with four executives resigning in early August and an early departure planned for CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.
Police are also investigating the Hung Hom station case, at the request of the Highways Department.