An independent commission tasked by the Hong Kong government to investigate construction issues at the MTR Hung Hom Station extension has declared the work safe.

This was in spite of evidence showing the diaphragm wall and platform slab deviated from contract specifications in substantial ways, the commission said in a 169-page interim report released on Tuesday.

“Notwithstanding this determination [of construction faults], the Commission finds that the Hung Hom Station Extension diaphragm wall and platform slab construction works are safe,” the report concluded. “Further, the Commission finds that no rebuilding or strengthening of the diaphragm walls or the platform slabs to be necessary.”

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

The commission of inquiry was formed by the government last June, after the media revealed a corner-cutting scandal at the HK$97.1 billion Shatin to Central Link expansion project. Steel bars at the Hung Hom station expansion were found to be cut short, instead of being correctly screwed into couplers.

In its summary, the report said that there were instances when the “threaded ends of rebars were cut,” though it was not extensive or systematic and “in context amounted only to isolated behaviour.”

The culprits were employees of contractor company Fang Sheung, it added.

Led by retired top judge Michael Hartmann, the commission conducted hearings from October 22 to January 29, summoning various MTR executives, contractors and expert witnesses.

The commission’s interim report was submitted to the government last month, and a redacted version was published on Tuesday. The commission explained that certain parts were redacted to avoid interfering with ongoing criminal investigations.

‘Allay public concerns’

At a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the report would go a long way to reassure the public.

Carrie Lam Frank Chan
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan. Photo:

“The commission’s views will greatly reduce the public’s fears on whether the platform is safe,” she said. “But as the commission said, the investigation is still ongoing and we will need to be especially cautious.”

She said that the government still plans to hold the parties accountable: “Safety is a key concern, but we do not just require the construction to be safe… there is also [the issue of] integrity and completeness, and whether the construction fulfils the legal and contractual requirements.”

Transport and housing chief Frank Chan also accepted personal responsibility. “No matter if it’s the MTRC or the government, we will work on our shortcomings. And as the Secretary for Transport and Housing, I cannot escape this responsibility,” he said.

The interim report, which was divided into 12 chapters, included a review of the management systems of the MTR Corporation and the government. One finding was that the MTRC’s design management team only knew of a design change in July 2018, “well after media reports.”

Lam and Chan said on Tuesday that the government will pay close attention to the commission’s views on management systems.

Workers took ‘shortcuts’

In its interim report, the commission said that workers cut short some steel bars on “isolated” occasions because they ran out of Type A rebars and wanted to convert Type B rebars into Type A rebars.

hung hom rebar
Photo: Commission of Inquiry interim report.

A Type B rebar had approximately 20 to 21 threads, meaning its threaded part was twice as long as that of a Type A rebar.

Workers from subcontractor Fang Sheung were responsible for installing the rebars into couplers. They were supervised by Leighton Contractors (Asia), the main firm for the construction work.

“The Commission is satisfied that, when faced with particular difficulties or when, for any number of reasons, it was simply too much trouble to contact Leighton to ask for assistance with remedial work then ‘shortcuts’ may have been taken,” the report read.

“Such instances, however, would have been isolated.”

Jason Poon, the boss of contractor company China Technology, previously alleged that around five per cent of rebars were cut – which could mean up to hundreds of rebars.

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

However, the commission said that Poon had no statistical basis to say so and described the number as just an “arbitrary estimate.”

The commission is expected to hand in its final report to the government by the end of August.

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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.