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Hong Kong MTR

Credibility of whistle-blower who exposed construction scandal on HK$97.1 billion Sha Tin-Central rail link called into question

  • Lawyers challenge evidence from managing director of China Technology during inquiry into shoddy work at Hung Hom station
  • Media reports revealed in May that steel bars had been cut short to hide improper installation
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2018, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2018, 12:51am

The credibility of a subcontractor who exposed a construction scandal on Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project was called into question on Thursday after discrepancies were found in witness statements.

Lawyers for both the main contractor and the rail operator challenged evidence given by Jason Poon Chuk-hung, managing director of subcontractor China Technology Corporation, and his employees at an inquiry into shoddy work at Hung Hom station on the HK$97.1 billion (US$13 billion) Sha Tin-Central link.

The scandal first erupted in May when media reports revealed steel bars had been cut short to hide improper installation into couplers on the platform.

China Technology’s superintendent Thomas Ngai Lai-chi told the commission he saw two workers cutting threaded rebars with a small red grinding or cutting machine at the site in December 2015.

Ngai said it was the only incident he witnessed during a roughly six-month period that began in October 2015.

Lawyer Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, representing Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main contractor for the platform, questioned the accuracy of the evidence given by Ngai’s boss, Poon.

Shieh referred to Poon’s claim that Ngai had reported seeing Leighton members of staff cutting the rebars and/or pretending they had properly installed the threads into couplers in September 2015 – a month before Ngai started work at the platform.

“In fact, I saw what happened in December, so for sure Mr Poon probably got the month wrong,” Ngai said. He added that while he had witnessed and reported the cutting, he had not seen anyone faking the installation.

Questions were also fired at Ngai’s colleague Ian But Ho-yin, assistant foreman at the company.

Philip Boulding QC for MTR Corp, asked the assistant foreman why he had not reported seeing workers cutting rebars in September 2015, despite his concerns about safety.

“There wasn’t any risk of death. I would like to reiterate that I was there for a couple of days. I wasn’t familiar with the Leighton staff. So I didn’t report it,” Ian But Ho-yin said.

Boulding said Poon had told staff to report any further cases of bar-cutting cases to MTR frontline staff and questioned why Ian But Ho-yin had not followed these orders when he saw similar occurrences in February 2016.

Ian But Ho-yin first did not answer the question, replying only to confirm that he had not reported the finding to MTR workers, later changing to say he could not remember whether he made a report when Boulding pressed.

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“Not credible, Mr But. It’s not credible, is it? You’re not telling the truth, are you?” Boulding said.

“I’ve never not told the truth,” he replied. Ian But Ho-yin said he had not seen MTR staff around the site very often. He also changed his answer to another question in the probe panel.

On Wednesday, he said he could not remember seeing workers screwing shortened bars into couplers.

I’ve never not told the truth
Ian But Ho-yin, assistant foreman at China Technology

When commission chairman Michael Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, pressed him with the same question on Thursday, he said: “Yes, I did”.

He explained he had been too nervous in the earlier hearing, with a “memory that has faded a little bit”.

Another assistant foreman of China Technology, Li Run-chao, also came under scrutiny.

Earlier, Li claimed to have seen workers cutting rebars in January 2016, but documents suggested the area he worked at had been concreted before his first working day at the site.

The worker initially insisted his stance but admitted that his memory could be wrong after being questioned further.

At the end of the session, chairman Hartmann warned Li not to discuss his evidence with anybody, and that if his witness testimony differed greatly two days running, it would be obvious he had done so.