Three new Hong Kong camps for quarantining people at risk of carrying the coronavirus will cost more than HK$330 million, including a 600-room site near a plot reserved for Disneyland’s expansion.
Officials said on Tuesday the projects would be partly funded with lottery money, after it was revealed they awarded two contracts to construction companies without the normal tendering process.
They said direct commissioning was necessary because of the projects’ urgency, and the process complied with relevant rules.
Managed by the Social Welfare Department, the Lotteries Fund – from which the bulk of the cash would come – received HK$2.35 billion (US$302 million) in 2018/19, mostly from Mark Six. It is primarily used to finance capital expenditure for welfare projects and provide one-off grants to experimental projects.
A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said officials had awarded a HK$194 million contract to China Harbour Engineering to build temporary quarantine facilities on a four-hectare government plot at Penny’s Bay on Lantau Island, which would provide at least 600 units. The aim was to have about 100 units ready by May.
The site is near a vacant plot reserved for the future development of Hong Kong Disneyland. The theme park had agreed earlier to explore the use of the vacant plot at the request of the government to support health and safety measures.
The bureau also revealed that a second quarantine camp at Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village was commissioned from China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong), with a contract value of HK$70 million. The first batch of about 120 units was due to be ready for use in mid-March.
And during a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, the Architectural Services Department revealed another HK$70 million would be spent renovating and building quarantine facilities at the Junior Police Call camp in Pat Heung, New Territories.
Some HK$254 million of the total HK$334 million would come from the Lotteries Fund – HK$194 million for Penny’s Bay and HK$60 million for the new facilities at Pat Heung, according to officials.
The remaining HK$80 million – HK$70 million for the Lei Yue Mun project and HK$10 million for the Junior Police Call site – would come from the Capital Works Reserve Fund, which draws money from fiscal reserves and requires approval from lawmakers for projects costing HK$30 million or more.
In a reply to the media on Tuesday, the Food and Health Bureau spokesman said the government “must expand quarantine facilities by a large number in a short period”, highlighting the increasing number of local infections, close-contact cases and large evacuation operations of Hongkongers from the Princess Diamond cruise liner and Hubei province, the epicentre of Covid-19 outbreak.
But pan-democratic lawmakers criticised officials at a meeting on Wednesday for bypassing their vetting by directly commissioning contractors or splitting big contracts into smaller ones valued less than HK$30 million.
“Why, among so many contractors, did the government only choose them? Does that mean they are good friends with the government?” lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick asked.
“We also need friends to fight against the epidemic,” Sylvia Lam Yu Ka-wai, director of architectural services, replied, adding that due to the urgency of the situation, the government directly commissioned capable contractors with reasonable prices based on the relevant guidelines.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu criticised pan-democrats as “brainless” for questioning officials on the lack of open tender for the projects.
“It would take at least half a year for the normal tender procedure. People will be dead by then,” he said.
It was earlier reported that China Harbour Engineering, a subsidiary of China Communications Construction, announced the commission on February 17 on WeChat.
The company said it had received the call from the Civil Engineering and Development Department and the contract was signed two days later. The company deleted the article after media contacted it, according to reports.
The contract is listed on the Civil Engineering and Development Department’s website, with an award date of February 17.