Hong Kong Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan has said he was “disappointed and sad,” after an inquiry found “unacceptable” issues in construction and supervision of the scandal-hit Sha Tin to Central rail link project. The MTR probe also concluded that the government – as the project supervisor – had to “bear a measure of responsibility.”

The final investigation report released on Tuesday slammed the MTR Corporation (MTRC) and its main contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia) Limited for “serious deficiencies” in their management and supervision of the construction of the HK$90.7 billion rail project.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan. File photo: inmediahk.net.

The scandals emerged in May 2018, when media reports revealed how contractors had cut corners by shortening steel bars used for securing the platforms at Hung Hom station, which was under expansion for the new rail link. Chief Executive Carrie Lam appointed a commission of inquiry the next month, as more engineering problems in the project came to light.

The final report noted there were “unacceptable incidents of poor workmanship on site compounded by lax supervision,” and the management was below “reasonable competence.” The commission – led by former judge Michael Hartmann – also said the government should be held partly responsible for the scandals, as it had been the “ultimate approver and accepter of the completed works.”

“It was not a passive bystander, it was an active participant,” the report read.

The commission nevertheless said that, with remedial measures in place, the station structure would still be safe and “fit for purpose.”

The Sha Tin-Central rail link under construction. File photo: inmediahk.net.

The commission also singled out the Highways Department, which was responsible for monitoring the construction progress: “It is evident that the Highways Department had not been able to detect failings in a timely manner nor had it taken firm action in a number of cases to ensure that corrective actions were taken by [the MTRC].”

‘Disappointed and sad’

Speaking on RTHK programme Millenium on Wednesday, Chan said the government was “fully satisfied” with the report, which showed that the government had failed to foresee shortcomings and supervise the rail operator to ensure it followed systems and guidelines.

Chan expressed disappointment over the issues reported in the probe, saying the quality and standard of the city’s construction work was world-renowned. He said the MTR and its brand were also one of the most widely known among rail operators globally.

“Like most citizens, I feel disappointed. I also feel sad. I hope everyone will focus on how to do our job well and boost the brand of Hong Kong’s construction, and the MTR’s reputation,” Chan said.

MTR Shatin to Central Link Hin Keng station construction sites. Photo: GovHK.

Chan added he would conduct an internal review, while a series of follow-up work were in place to improve the supervisory role of the Highways Department. The policies included field inspections, spot checks, and strengthening communication with the MTR.

Both Chan and the CEO of the MTRC Jacob Kam apologised to the public at a press conference on Tuesday.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.