Four contractors working on the MTR’s Shatin to Central Link have been sanctioned by the Hong Kong government for their “serious poor performance” following a series of construction scandals revealed over recent months.

Leighton Contractors (Asia), Samsung C & T Corporation, Hsin Chong Construction Company and China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) have been suspended from bidding for government contracts for between three months and a year.

Hung Hom station steel bars
Workers installing steel bars that were cut short to the wall of the Hung Hom station.

The Development Bureau said on Monday that it has taken “regulatory action” against the firms because of issues associated with Hung Hom station, To Kwa Wan station and Exhibition Centre station. Each of the stations, currently under construction, are part of the HK$97.1 billion Shatin to Central Link, which is set to start operating in 2021.

“If a contractor is found or suspected to have committed serious poor performance in any public or private sector works contract, the [Bureau] can take appropriate regulating action against the contractor in accordance with established procedures,” a spokesperson said.

In May, it was revealed that, in 2015, workers at the Hung Hom station expansion had cut steel bars instead of correctly screwing them into the couplers connecting the platform wall and the floor. The number of affected couplers continues to be under dispute.

Hung Hom station
Hung Hom station expansion site. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Exploringlife.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam ordered a commission of enquiry into the Hung Hom station expansion in June.

On Monday, Leighton Asia – the contractor for the Hung Hom station expansion – was hit with the most severe penalty, with the firm barred from tendering for all types of government contracts for 12 months effective immediately.

While the Development Bureau did not specify the construction flaws Leighton Asia was responsible for, it said that it would “recommend and take further appropriate regulatory action” if new information surfaces.

Other construction problems were uncovered at To Kwa Wan station and Exhibition Centre station, such as excessive sinking and incorrect installation.

Exhibition Centre station
Exhibition Centre station. Photo: Citizen News.

Samsung C & T Corporation and Hsin Chong Construction Company, working on the To Kwa Wan station under a joint venture, were each suspended from tendering for all government contracts for four months.

As for the Exhibition Centre station, Leighton Asia and China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) were each suspended from tendering for the categories of “Buildings (Group C)” and “Roads and Drainage (Group C)” for three months.

HKFP has reached out to the four firms for comment.

‘Insufficient penalties’

Chairman of the legislature’s railway subcommittee Michael Tien said on Tuesday that the government made a “courageous” decision but the penalties were not strong enough, especially when some contractors had disobeyed the government’s demands to halt work.

Michael Tien
Michael Tien. Photo: LegCo.

“To deter a multinational corporation, the government needs to either revoke its license for some time… or at least suspend [its ability to bid] for five years,” Tien said on a radio programme.

“When [Leighton] has businesses around the world and in Hong Kong, suspending it for 15 months will not have a major effect,” he added, noting that it is currently carrying out government contracts worth HK$80 billion.

Tien said on Monday that it would be a “joke” if Leighton was able to bid on contracts with other semi-public bodies, such as the MTRC, the Airport Authority and the West Kowloon Cultural District.

Jason Poon Chuk-hung
Jason Poon Cheuk-hung. Photo: screenshot.

Jason Poon Cheuk-hung, a contractor boss who acted as a whistle-blower with the Hung Hom station expansion scandal, agreed that Leighton should have its license revoked.

The penalties also attracted criticism from pro-democracy lawmakers, with Democratic Party’s Lam Cheuk-ting asking for a permanent ban on Leighton. Civic Party’s Tanya Chan also urged the government to disclose details on the contractors’ rule-breaking activities.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.