The government will make sure that the executives and contractors deemed responsible for the construction scandal pertaining to MTR Corp’s Shatin-Central Link (SCL) are held legally liable for their lapses, Hong Kong’s top leader said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said her administration will deal with the aftermath of the Hung Hom station works scandal in a proper and thorough manner.
The pledge came after Frederick Ma Si-hang, MTR’s chairman, announced on Tuesday that five of the firm’s senior executives, including CEO Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, were set to leave the company following calls by authorities to fix responsibility for SCL project problems.
Lam said Wednesday that the flawed construction at a rail project site has damaged Hong Kong’s reputation for professionalism and having quality infrastructure, RTHK reports.
She vowed that the government will seek accountability through various means, including a full-scale investigation by the independent inquiry commission that was appointed by her last month.
The administration will seek criminal accountability, punishing related contractors, and ensure that the departing and sacked senior MTR managers don’t get any parting bonuses, Lam said.
Meanwhile, MTR will also be called into account in keeping with the Entrustment Agreement between the government and the company.
The fact that MTR’s board of directors including four government officials were kept in the dark about the work flaws showed its project department and works teams can’t evade responsibility, Lam said, adding that the police will conduct criminal investigations.
Asked if accountability should also be sought from transport secretary Frank Chan Fan, Lam defended her cabinet member by saying that he had done his best to supervise MTR’s works by raising questions on key issues.
With regard to the departing MTR executives, the chief executive stressed that she will not allow the railway operator to offer gratuities to the managers. In terms of bonus or gratuity depending on individual’s work performance, the board of directors would make a decision.
Lam suggested that MTR’s past practices, which saw the firm offer so-called golden handshakes to departing top executives, should be done away with.
She was referring to case in 2014 when then-MTR chief executive Jay Walder received salary for the remaining term and contract gratuities for agreeing to step down one year ahead of his contract after he was blamed for delays in the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link project.
Saying that nothing is more than important than ensuring public safety when it comes to railway works, Lam revealed that three former government department heads have been picked as consultants to strengthen the management of the SCL project.
The three appointees are Lau Ching-kwong, a former director of Civil Engineering Department; Hui Siu-wai, former director of the Buildings Department; and Wong Hok-ning, a former head of the Geotechnical Engineering Office.
In other comments, Lam said she persuaded MTR’s chairman, Frederick Ma, to stay on his post even though he said he was ready to step down.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, 24 pro-democracy lawmakers said the work flaws exposed in the SLC project constitute the biggest scandal ever for MTR, and shows that authorities’ oversight of the rail firm exists only in name.
The lawmakers demanded that Transport Secretary Chan and MTR Chairman Ma should both step down immediately.
Michael Tien Puk-sun, chairman of the Legislative Council’s railways subcommittee, said he doesn’t agree with the demand.
Ma should stay in his post as MTR cannot afford leadership vacuum at this moment, Tien said. For the rail company, it is also a critical period as the Express Rail Link will soon begin operations, he added.
Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting from the Democratic Party said he will seek a motion in the Legco for a vote of no confidence against both Ma and Chan.
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