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Hong Kong MTR

Leighton manager faces grilling at Sha-Tin Central link inquiry as chairman wonders if company had a collective ‘lapse’

  • Michael Hartmann, chairman of the commission of inquiry into botched work, noted that many of the main contractor’s staff failed to remember key documents
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2018, 3:13am

The chairman of a high-level inquiry into a construction scandal involving Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project asked if the main contractor’s staff had a collective “lapse” or “oversight” as many of them failed to remember key documents.

Michael Hartmann, chairman of the commission of inquiry into shoddy work on the Hung Hom station platform of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) Sha Tin-Central link, made his observation on Tuesday as another manager of Leighton Contractors (Asia) said he was not aware of many key issues.

Leighton, the main contractor for the project, is embroiled in allegations that steel bars were cut short to fake proper installation into couplers on the station platform, and that supporting diaphragm walls were changed without authorisation.

Several Leighton managers had previously told the commission they had no recollection of the instances of defective steel bar works carried out by its bar-fixing subcontractor Fang Sheung Construction, despite the firm issuing a nonconformance report (NCR) in December 2015.

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Giving evidence at the inquiry, Raymond Brewster, group pre-contracts manager of Leighton, who was the authorised signatory of the contract in April 2013 with the MTR Corporation, said he could not recall whether he had received or read the project management plan or the quality supervision plan.

“I don’t remember receiving it,” he said, adding that neither could he remember if he had seen a letter from the Buildings Department about the requirements of the couplers’ supervision.

Brewster, whose primary responsibility was to ensure the works were constructed according to statutory requirements, also admitted that he had not been aware of the design changes to the top of the two diaphragm walls until recently.

“It seems like you were not aware of the things happened on site?” asked Calvin Cheuk, counsel for the commission.

“I wouldn’t say not anything at all. If situations warranted my involvement, I would be consulted,” Brewster replied.

But Hartmann, a former non-permanent judge on Hong Kong’s top court, said he had an impression that several Leighton staff who had testified at the inquiry all said they had no idea about certain key documents concerning the construction procedures or requirements.

“It seems as if document concerning those procedures was put in place, but a number of people, at critical instances, didn’t know about it,” he noted.

“It seems to me it’s a question, really perhaps a statement, but would you agree that would be a lapse or oversight?” Hartmann asked.

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But Brewster did not address the question, only saying that they had a system in place to monitor the project.

Cheuk also suggested that the recent joint statement submitted by Leighton and the MTR Corp about the as-built details of the diaphragm walls were “unsatisfactory” as they were only supported by some on-site photos due to a lack of documents to ascertain the details.

“The MTR Corp and Leighton had to resort to site photos review in order to come up with a joint statement because they find those other documents are not complete or not completely reliable. Are you aware of the situation?” he asked.

But Brewster said he did not come across all the details.

Richard Khaw, SC, for the government, also showed a recent nonconformance report issued by the MTR Corp to Leighton in September this year regarding problems found at the soffit of the track slab including insufficient spacing of shear links and anchorage length.

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Man Sze-ho, assistant engineer with Leighton, said at the inquiry: “In breaking open the honeycombs, some rebars were exposed and it was discovered that the installation method for shear links at the time was not entirely in compliance with the MTR’s drawings.” 

The hearing continues.