An independent panel of experts investigating the construction scandal in Hong Kong’s most expensive rail project will launch an open preliminary hearing later this month, its secretary has announced.
According to a notice put up on Monday, the hearing over works at the Hung Hom station of the troubled Sha Tin-Central Link will start on September 24 at the former Tsuen Wan Law Courts Building to determine the timetable and procedure of the inquiry.
Without naming the MTR Corporation – owner of the HK$97.1 billion (US$12.4 billion) project – and its contractor Leighton Contractors (Asia), the panel said anyone who was “the subject of the inquiry” could apply to be legally represented in the hearing.
After the preliminary phase, the next substantial round of hearings – also open to the public – will take place in the second half of October on every weekday except public holidays. Depending on the progress, the panel may also consider extra sessions on Saturday mornings.
Session schedules and documents presented will be disclosed to the public. Members of the public are invited to provide information or documents relevant to the panel “as soon as possible”.
The scandal surrounding the Sha Tin-Central Link first drew major attention in May when reports surfaced of workers cutting steel bars to make it seem as though they had been screwed properly into couplers in a platform at Hung Hom station. Subcontractor China Technology Corporation previously alleged there were thousands of bars involved.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor then appointed former judge Michael Hartmann to lead the inquiry. He will be joined by British engineer Peter Hansford.
Both Hartmann and Hansford have previously led a review over the delay of the HK$84.4 billion cross-border high-speed rail project in 2014. The current panel however has the power to summon witnesses and request documents as it sees fit.
Concurrently, police are investigating the Hung Hom station case at the request of the Highways Department.
Although further substandard work was discovered at To Kwa Wan and Exhibition Centre stations on the rail link, the expert panel’s inquiry will focus on fact finding and construction contracts related to the Hung Hom stop.
The MTR Corp also confirmed last month that 131 points out of 1,482 along the line had subsidence issues and required follow-up, while some had sunk further than the acceptable limit of 2.5cm.
The panel can refer to the MTR Corp’s overall project management and government supervision where necessary, and this may extend to matters related to other stations.
The string of flaws plaguing the project has led to an overhaul of top management at the rail giant, with four executives resigning in early August and the early departure of CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen.
Leighton, who was accused by the subcontractor of having kept under wraps knowledge of the shoddy work throughout the whole construction process, has not responded to the scandal since June.