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Hong Kong MTR

MTR Corp employee admits inspection team backdated key checklist for platform on scandal-hit Hong Kong rail project – but can’t remember whose idea it was

  • Documents based on site photos and recollections of senior site inspector were compiled in June this year – but dated February 2017
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 7:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 7:00am

MTR Corporation employees backdated a key checklist given to the government following a construction scandal on Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project after the main contractor failed to provide relevant inspection records, a high-level inquiry was told.

Giving evidence at 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, Michael Fu Yin-chit, the project’s construction manager, admitted his inspection team compiled a checklist of coupler installations in June this year but retrospectively dated it to February 2017.

Leighton Contractors (Asia), 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.

Fu’s colleague MTR Corp engineer Derek Ma Ming-ching earlier told the inquiry that after the construction scandal came to light at the end of May this year, the Buildings Department had asked the rail giant for detailed records on supervision and inspections.

However, it was said Leighton had never prepared any records or inspection log book for coupler installations as required by the MTR Corp’s quality supervision plan (QSP) for the department.

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The inquiry was told there was nothing for the rail operator to countersign to fulfil requirements under the QSP – that at least 20 per cent of coupler splicing assemblies were inspected at the platform and 50 per cent were checked at diaphragm walls.

Based on relevant site photos and the recollections of a senior site inspector, Kobe Wong Chi-chiu, the team finally compiled a set of checklists of platform coupler installations in June. However, the document was dated February 2017 and later submitted to the department.

But when pressed by government counsel Ellen Pang, Fu said he had no recollection as to why the checklist was incorrectly dated.

“You’re talking about discussions with the team members. I can’t recall that,” he said, adding that he told members “it must be qualified with a remark, saying the checklist was retrospectively produced”.

Although Fu was the most senior official in the team, he denied giving instructions on how the document should be dated or having any knowledge that it would be shown to government officials.

Work in MTR scandal must instil public confidence

“I can’t recall who discussed the backdating … I am not sure who made the decision,” he said.

Commission chairman and former judge Michael Hartmann said he was “puzzled” by the backdating, and asked Fu why he failed to suggest dating it to June this year.

But Fu evaded the question, only saying he fully agreed with the chairman’s view.

Lee Tze-man, general manager for the link project, said that when he first became aware of allegations of cutting corners made by a whistle-blower in an email in January 2017, he asked coordination manager Carl Wu to conduct an internal review about the claims.

He said he wanted his team to carry out the review independently so he did not give out any guidelines or methodologies for them to follow.

Inquiry into Sha Tin-Central link construction scandal gets more time

However, Hartmann said he was baffled as to why nobody bothered to interview whistle-blower Jason Poon, of subcontractor China Technology Corporation, over his allegations even though Leighton and the MTR Corp had both conducted investigations into the bar-cutting allegations.

“I wanted it to be independent. I wanted them to make up their minds about who they needed to interview,” Lee replied, adding he just wanted to find out if a proper system was in place.

The hearing continues.