Probe only way bar none to dig out truth

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Jun 2018

The government has no option but to set up a formal commission of inquiry to investigate the Sha Tin-Central Rail Link construction scandal, if the matter is to be put to rest for good.

Any response short of an independent commission entrusted with statutory powers to summon and question witnesses will fall short of the expectations of a public troubled by revelations that were made in dribs and drabs over the past week.

So far, only MTR Corp has tried hard to answer the questions openly. But the whole truth will never be known if the other three principal players - main contractor Leighton Asia and subcontractors Fan Sheung Construction and China Technology Corp - don't come clean on the platform work incidents.

If not for someone's whistle-blowing, the outrageous corner-cutting acts would have remained buried deep in the concrete. If mishaps occur sometime down the line, it will be too late by then. What's happened is an issue of grave public safety concern.

I'm totally stunned that someone could have come up with the decision to cut the metal bars short and pretend the platform works had been perfectly completed. Shouldn't the ICAC be asked to launch an investigation too?

What happened? How did it occur? Who were involved? Whose decision was it? These are only some of the questions begging for answers.

According to the piecemeal information disclosed so far, the secret appears to be locked between the three builders. After winning the main contract, Leighton subcontracted the steel job to Fan Sheung and the concrete work to China Technology.

It was in August and September 2015 that MTRC became aware that some couplers on the platform metal bars were removed after the steel bars of adjoining slabs couldn't be screwed in. Railway chiefs recently named Fan Sheung as the culprit. Meanwhile, some opined that China Technology should stop filling the bars with concrete after spotting the faults.

China Technology is the only builder that has commented, saying its staff had raised the matter with Leighton in July 2015.

But the problems kept recurring. Then the concrete contractor brought the matter to Leighton's senior management - only to be warned it was bound by a confidentiality clause.

Last September, China Technology took the matter further to the Highways Department and Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan to propose a joint meeting with Leighton and MTRC. A few days later, the subcontractor said the issue had been "resolved" and withdrew its request.

Was that sequence of events curious?

Wading into the web of perplexity, lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said workers involved in the incident or incidents didn't belong to Fan Sheung, but were assigned by someone else. Nevertheless, Fan Sheung was responsible for paying them.

Very strange indeed.

I fear that any body without statutory powers won't be able to dig to the bottom to unearth the truth. Launching a formal inquiry is the only way forward if the public is to be assured.

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