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  • Ax falls on MTR heads: Project director and three general managers forced to quit scandal-plagued rail company, CEO to retire early
        Date:2018-08-08 

    An upheaval of earthquake proportions shook the MTR Corp Ltd yesterday, with top executives involved in the troubled construction of the Sha Tin to Central rail link told to leave immediately.

    Project director Philco Wong Nai-keung resigned with immediate effect while three general managers on the HK$97.1 billion link were on the way out.

    That news came from MTRCL chairman Frederick Ma Si-hang last evening at a hastily organized press conference about 90 minutes after the government ordered that those responsible for bungled and faulty work - and perhaps criminal acts - on the link be relieved of their duties.

    That was not the end of it: Ma said MTRCL chief executive Lincoln Leong Kwok-kuen, 58, has asked to take early retirement, though he would be staying on until a successor is appointed after a global recruitment effort.

    Leong renewed his contract for another two years in February.

    And Ma revealed that he himself has twice offered to resign, most recently on Monday and before that on July 7. "But the government hasn't accepted my resignation," he added.

    "They want me to stay on to look for a new CEO and to deal with matters which are ongoing."

    Ma's current three-year contract runs to the end of this year.

    He emphasized four times during the press conference that he is "very responsible" for matters at the rail operator, and he and Leong both apologized for the scandals.

    The government have slammed the corporation for possibly providing it with falsified data related to construction problems at extensions to Hung Hom Station to accommodate the Sha Tin-Central link including design plans for a platform being radically altered.

    "From a project management and governance angle inaccuracy in such an important document is totally unacceptable," Ma said. "But we were kept in the dark as the project management team did not provide us with timely reports and accurate facts. This is really disappointing."

    The corporation's board had held a special meeting earlier yesterday and had decided to reshuffle the project management team for the Sha Tin to Central link, which is supposed to go into partial operation next year and then be completed in 2021.

    Leong also spoke about steel bars in a problem platform at Hung Hom Station.

    Longer bars that did not require the use of couplers had been used, he said, but the contractor did not seek approval from the MTRCL or make a complete record of what was being done. And project managers did not push the contractor to follow procedures.

    He said outside experts had in fact confirmed that the changes actually improved on the original design, but that was no excuse for not following procedures.

    A report the MTRCL released in June said Leong did not learn about design changes until May 29.

    It was also revealed in March that steel and concrete works along part of a tunnel were faulty. It was found that steel bars had been cut short to make it appear they were screwed into couplers.

    But on July 12 came leaked photos - they could have been taken in 2013 - that showed steel bars forming the structure for two diaphragm walls supporting the platform were not screwed fully into couplers.

    Philco Wong, 63, who joined the rail operator in November 2011 as general manager for the Sha Tin to Central Link, has been project director since October 2014. He has over 35 years of experience in managing large-scale infrastructure projects.

    In early June, Wong blamed workers for adjusting the lengths of steel bars instead of screwing them into couplers.

    "I don't understand why they did this," he said. "It was not difficult at all. It takes less than 15 seconds." He also showed reporters how to screw a steel bar with his bare hands.

    Wong was later accused of lying about what he knew and when as the MTRCL insisted he knew about the shortening of steel bars in January last year.

    Jason Poon Chuk-hung, a director of construction subcontractor China Technology Corp, said he had called Wong to ask about the incident in 2016.

    The trading of MTR Corp shares and debt securities was halted at 1 pm yesterday pending the release of an announcement relating to inside information of the company. All structured products relating to the rail operator were halted at the same time.

    Shares in MTRCL closed 0.59 percent higher at HK$42.80 at midday.

    They will resume trading at 9am today.



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