Consultancy firm hired to monitor Hong Kong rail giant MTR Corp admits it did not carry out any surprise visits at scandal-hit site
- Unannounced checks were part of contract PYPUN-KD & Associates had signed with government, inquiry told
- But director says ‘we cannot just walk on to the site and take a look at things’
A firm hired to monitor the MTR Corporation did not conduct any surprise inspections at the Sha Tin-Central rail link’s Hung Hom site, a commission of inquiry heard on Friday.
That was despite unannounced checks being part of the contract the consultancy firm, PYPUN-KD & Associates (PYPUN), had signed with the government in 2012.
Since October, the commission has been investigating construction scandals that enveloped the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) link, the city’s most expensive rail project.
The government discovered in August that 2,000 fewer couplers used in connecting steel bars had been installed at a new platform at the Hung Hom site than required.
On Friday, PYPUN director Yueng Wai-hung told the inquiry it was not possible to carry out surprise inspections at the site.
“The site is very large. We cannot walk in unannounced to the contractor and take a look at things,” Yueng said.
“There were other access and safety concerns that we needed to get a grasp of.”
Instead, Yueng said the MTR Corp arranged all the site visits, with government officials there.
The next witness, Director of Highways Daniel Chung Kum-wah, however, disagreed.
“I think it can be done,” Chung said. “Of course, no one can just enter the site any time he wants … surprise visits must be subject to some short-term notification.”
He said the consultancy could have limited the scope of a surprise visit and gave the rail firm less time to prepare.
Chung, on pre-retirement leave since late October, said PYPUN was part of a “check the checker” system the Highways Department had put in place to ensure work quality.
The MTR Corp was supposed to monitor the contractor, Leighton Contractors (Asia), while PYPUN could conduct audits at the government’s request, according to documents submitted to the commission.
Yueng also said a routine site inspection was conducted every three months at Hung Hom.
“The site walk’s purpose is to allow government officials to get a general feeling of the process, and we would never get into great detail about the works,” he said.
He also acknowledged that he was only present at four of more than 80 site visits held between May 2013 and April this year.
The commission is tasked with examining the steel reinforcement fixing and any other works that raised public safety concerns regarding diaphragm wall and platform slab construction works at Hung Hom.
It has to submit a report to the chief executive by February 26.
Since 2013, work has been done to expand the existing Hung Hom station, including building two new underground levels for new platforms. The rail link comprises two sections, one linking Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan, the other Hung Hom and Admiralty.
The rail firm had hoped to open the Tuen Mun-Ma On Shan section next year, but said earlier the commencement would likely be delayed, as safety tests were being done on the platforms.
The hearing resumes on Monday with transport secretary Frank Chan Fan as a witness.