The Permanent Secretary for Development (Works), Mr HON Chi-keung (CK), will retire next month. In his 38 years of government service (including three years of training), CK has handled mostly project management and dealt with numerous difficult problems. Earlier, I invited CK to share with me his feelings about his imminent retirement and talk about the two public work projects that he still had vivid memories of - the drainage improvement works on Nathan Road and the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS), formerly known as the Strategic Sewage Disposal Scheme. As the construction industry is facing numerous challenges in recent years, what messages does CK have for the industry and colleagues?
CK has rich experience in engineering. He joined the Government as Assistant Engineer in 1983 and was promoted to Principal Government Engineer in 2008. He was the Project Manager of the Hong Kong Island and Islands Development Office in the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) from 2008 to 2011, and was promoted to the Director of Civil Engineering and Development afterwards. He has been appointed Permanent Secretary for Development (Works) since April 2015 and will retire next month.
Closing the main route to shorten construction time
In the 1990s, as serious flooding would occur on Nathan Road in Mong Kok near Prince Edward Road whenever there was heavy rain, the area was dubbed “Nathan River”. The problem had troubled residents and business operators in the area for a long time. CK frankly said that he was under great pressure as the Chief Engineer of the Drainage Services Department (DSD) at that time. As long-term solutions to the flooding problem on Nathan Road, an underground storage tank at Tai Hang Tung had to be built and the Kai Tak Transfer Scheme must be implemented upstream. However, given the large scales of the two works projects, it took time for the projects to proceed from design to construction. Therefore, in order to provide an urgent solution, the Government had to first implement short-term and medium-term improvement works for the drainage system and catchment channels. The projects were challenging because Nathan Road was the main route. If the projects had been conducted by closing the road in phases the traditional way, it would have taken about five years for them to be completed. As we all know, distant water cannot put out a nearby fire.
At that time, CK made a bold and innovative decision to adopt a fast-action plan to close the entire 0.5 kilometre-long northbound route on Nathan Road and divert the traffic to Portland Street. The works were hoped to be completed in about 19 months. During the road closure period, inconvenience was unavoidable. In order to minimise the nuisances caused to the public, the DSD collaborated with other government departments to step up communication with stakeholders and deploy “Road Ambassadors” to help pedestrians reach their destinations. Finally, with the joint efforts of all sides, the projects were completed in nine months. Not only was the construction time and road closure period substantially shortened, but more importantly, the problem of flooding which had long been troubling residents and business operators has been mitigated.
Calmly handling project uncertainties
The other project, the HATS, is a major government initiative to improve the water quality of the Victoria Harbour. The Stage 1 construction works commenced in late 1994, including the building of a 23-kilometre-long sewage conveyance system/tunnel, extending from Tseung Kwan O and Chai Wan in the east to Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung in the west. The tunnel had been formed underground at a depth of up to 150 metres, which is equal to the height of a 50-storey building turned upside down. The construction process was full of challenges as it involved very complicated techniques.
CK recalled that the contractor found continuous tunnel leakage during Stage 1 tunnelling works, and without much preparation for this problem, the contractor adopted an uncooperative attitude and suspended work for as long as half a year with unreasonable demands made on the Government. The Government had to employ professional and legal teams to launch several rounds of negotiations and enter a lawsuit with the contractor. At last the Government won the lawsuit and hired a new contractor. The works restarted, and despite all the twists and turns, including surface settlement, damage caused to a tunnel boring machine and presence of fault zones under the ground, the project team had proven to be indomitable and managed to tide over the difficulties in a calm manner. Stage 1 works were completed in 2001. Now, sewage generated by a population of 3.5 million on both sides of the Victoria Harbour is delivered to the Stonecutters Island Sewage Treatment Works for proper treatment before discharge to the sea, with substantial improvement in the overall water quality of the Harbour. In 2010, the cross-harbour swimming race was resumed.
Promoting innovation to enhance professionalism
It’s never easy to pursue large-scale projects. The future construction volumes are expected to continue to rise, with tougher challenges ahead of us. Having said this, CK and I have full confidence in our colleagues. Hong Kong boasts world-class infrastructure. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, Hong Kong has been ranked first in infrastructure for eight years consecutively. I hope that our colleagues will continue their efforts to take infrastructure development to the next higher level and maintain the good reputation of the construction industry in Hong Kong.
CK encourages his colleagues and the construction industry, firstly, to be open-minded, bold and innovative and actively promote the application of high-end technologies to enhance productivity, construction efficiency and safety performance to cope with the larger construction volumes in future; and secondly, to strengthen their professional standards. He believes that the construction industry plays a significant role in the construction of Hong Kong, and that the recent occurrence of incidents involving individual large-scale projects does not mean that the whole industry has an issue. Therefore, staff of the construction industry and our government colleagues should adopt a positive and visionary approach and equip themselves constantly to enhance their professional knowledge, broaden their exposure and improve the project management capability so as to tackle various challenges.
Encouraging colleagues to overcome challenges
With 38 years of engineering experience, CK has been working alongside with Hong Kong people for the city’s prosperity and growth. Before retirement, CK gave each of his colleagues a bookmark that reads “Only after the chilling cold will the winter plum blossom, profuse in fragrance”. By quoting the plum blossom blooming with its sweet fragrance after braving snow and frost, he encourages us to be fearless of difficulties and strive forward to overcome challenges so that we will be guaranteed success.
Finally, I wish CK a happy retirement. As tomorrow is the Mid-Autumn Festival, I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy Mid-Autumn Festival. May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future!
23 September, 2018Back