Fight at the museum: Sacked M+ contractor hits back at arts hub in Legco attack

Top News | Charlotte Luo 12 Sep 2018

Former M+ museum contractor Hsin Chong Construction said yesterday its financial problems had nothing to do with delayed construction and put the blame squarely on the arts hub authority.

In a letter to lawmakers, the sacked Hsin Chong Construction said the authority made 180,000 design alterations to the original plans.

It also accused the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority of hacking its computers and gathering staff data without permission, including ID numbers and medical details.

The M+ museum, with a new main contractor, is now scheduled to open in 2020, a year later than initially planned.

The authority, which manages the multi-billion-dollar arts hub, terminated Hsin Chong Construction's contract last month due to its financial problems.

The contractor said in the letter that the responsibility for the project delay rests mainly with the arts hub authority.

Localist lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick quoted from the letter at a special meeting, saying the reason for the delay can be attributed to many factors, including higher than expected underground water.

Chu told the panel that, according to a letter, frequent changes to the original plan led to submission of altered plans to the Buildings Department. This was the main reason for the delay, he said.

Addressing the lawmakers, the authority's chief executive, Duncan Pescod, said he would not comment on the allegations as he had yet to read the document.

The document was sent to lawmakers on condition that they can quote it only at Legislative Council meetings but not reveal it to the public.

Pescod said the authority is not to blame for the delay. He also said the authority cannot terminate a contract before gathering concrete evidence that the company involved was in trouble. "Until it became very evident when they made a statement that they couldn't pay their debt, we were not in a position unilaterally to take a view," Pescod said.

It was revealed last month that the authority had been paying the subcontractors of the M+ project directly as the main contractor had been suffering financial problems.

Pescod defended the decision of paying HK$1.6 billion to subcontractors in February 2017 and June 2018.

He denied he had misled the Legislative Council over the payments. "Our logic throughout was we wanted to keep the project going," he said.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho accused Pescod of lying to Legco.

Tam had asked about the financial health of the main contractor and subcontractors at two meetings in December last year and January this year, but Pescod had said all the employees received salaries on time, without mentioning the financial troubles of the main contractor, and the salaries were actually paid by the newly founded subsidiary of the authority.

Engineer and lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming asked if the cost of the project would change in the future.

In response, Pescod said the delay in the project was entirely due to the financial difficulties of Hsin Chong. He said there was no data available on costs change, but he hoped that information would be available within three months.

According to filings to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Hsin Chong Construction's parent company, Hsin Chong Group, had fallen behind on debt payments. Its shares had been suspended from trading since April 2017.

The M+ project is about 60 percent complete. Gammon Construction Limited has been appointed management contractor of the M+ project.

charlotte.luo@singtaonewscorp.com

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