Following is the speech (English only) delivered by the Secretary for Works, Mr Lee Shing-see, at the Hong Kong Institute of Construction Managers Quality Charter Ceremony today (September 18):
Good Evening, Mr. Mok, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here today to address this important gathering on "Quality Charter". I fully support any initiative to promote quality, one of the crucial indicators of how well our construction industry is performing. Quality is fundamental to users of our domestic infrastructure. It is also important at this juncture as to whether we will enjoy a thriving business in the Mainland and overseas construction markets.
Last month, I led a 45-member delegation to Guiyang, Chengdu and Chongqing for a study mission. The delegation comprises developers, contractors, consultants as well as senior banking officials.
Our main aim is to forge ties with the construction sector and local government officials of the Western Region. We also want to make use of China's impending accession to the World Trade Organization to seek for more business opportunities in the Mainland.
I am glad that, after years of promoting professional services in the Mainland, our efforts are showing signs of return.
During the visit, a Hong Kong company executed a RMB 400M cement production plant contract with the Mainland government. Another company has signed three letters of intent with a total investment of RMB 190M. Also, one company signed an agreement with a Mainland contractor for co-operation in Mainland projects.
In exploring the China market, Hong Kong's construction industry has a definite competitive edge over its competitors from the Mainland and overseas. Our strength lies in construction technology, management of large-scale multi-disciplinary and specialized projects, tall buildings, construction efficiency and project financing. In addition, Hong Kong has great advantages in respect of geographical proximity, language, culture and knowledge of doing business with the Mainland.
However, we must also be mindful of our own shortcomings. For example, high cost structure, insufficient capacity to bid for mega projects due to the relatively small scale of our companies. Some recent unfortunate piling incidents have also aroused accusations of deteriorating quality of our products.
I am therefore very pleased that the Construction Industry Review Committee led by the Hon. Henry Tang has been busy harnessing with key practitioners to explore ways of improvement and reform. Their recommendations to be submitted to the Chief Executive by the end of this year will certainly bring a new horizon to the entire construction industry.
No doubt, the pursuit of quality demands a good partnership between Government and the construction industry. In this regard, I appreciate that your Institute has taken the initiative to implement a Quality Charter, which focuses on five key elements, viz. integrity, innovation and environment, safety and quality procedures, communication with the community, and continuing professional development.
I am not going to bore you all by exploiting all five elements tonight. But I do want to share with you some of our related work, the first one of which is the integrity of our construction industry.
In no small measure, Hong Kong's success is due to the contribution made by our people. To maintain and enhance this success, it is essential that our society upholds the highest standards of integrity. Recent piling scandals and the incidence of fraud, corruption, and abuse of power have tarnished the image of Hong Kong construction industry at both local and international levels. They have undermined public confidence in our construction industry.
To restore public confidence, all players in the industry should contribute in the effort to enhance their commitment to ethical practices. It could be demonstrated through a company's corporate policy promulgating such commitment to business partners and instructions to staff. The company code of conduct should cover staff conduct, discipline, prevention of bribery, declaration and avoidance of conflict of interest, etc.
As a major public client, it is important that the Government should take the lead in nurturing an ethical culture in the construction industry. We should engage only contractors and consultants who are in support of business ethics and good staff conduct. Works Bureau has taken stock of these objectives and is working with the ICAC on the implementation of probity requirements for all works contracts and consultancies. As a first step, Works Bureau recently promulgated two guidelines on the acceptance of entertainment from contractors and the relationship between site supervisory staff and contractors. These guidelines strive to arouse government site staff the importance of maintaining integrity in their daily contacts with contractors.
With each and every step of improvement, we hope our industry can meet the expectations of both local and international communities with the highest standard of honesty and integrity.
In recent years, sustainability has been the name of the game for project delivery. Unlike the traditional approach, the concept of sustainability seeks to integrate environmental objectives with economic and social objectives. Under this concept, all major policy programmes and measures are assessed for their impact on the sustainability of society and the environment.
The construction industry of Hong Kong is therefore experiencing more and more pressure than ever before to strive for a sustainable management, particularly in the aspect of construction and demolition material. With the amount of solid waste increasing much faster than that expected, Hong Kong will soon be running out of land for waste disposal. We must therefore review the entire waste management strategy.
A Waste Reduction Task Force for the construction industry was set up last year, aiming to minimize construction and demolition materials. The Task Force seeks to reduce the amount of waste produced, to encourage waste recycling and re-use, to promote greater efficiency and economy in the management of waste, and to provide outlets for inert construction and demolition waste disposal.
As a member of this Task Force, the Works Bureau has kick-started the mission on a number of fronts. For example, when a project is upgraded to Category A status, the Public Works Sub-committee would need to screen the proposal on the management of construction and demolition material. Besides, waste management plans are now required in all contracts which are subject to Environmental Impact Assessments, and this requirement will gradually be extended to other works contracts as well. We are also reviewing our General Specification for Civil Engineering Works to see if we can make better use of recycled aggregates in low strength concrete and sub-base fill material. I must stress that the sustainable management of waste cannot be a matter for the Government alone. We all owe a duty to the present and the future generations in the reduction of waste.
I now wish to talk about site safety. We are all aware that the accident rate of the construction industry in Hong Kong has been very high. Through our concerted efforts, it is encouraging to see signs of continuing improvement in the industry's safety performance both in terms of accident numbers and accident rate. Last year, the accident toll of the construction industry recorded a notable decrease of 28 per cent while the accident rate per thousand workers has declined by 20 per cent when compared with 1998. The number of work injuries and accident rate in the first quarter of this year has also come down by 21 per cent and 23 per cent respectively. The statistics show that our effort on construction safety is achieving results.
Recently, we have taken the lead to encourage leading construction companies in Hong Kong to practice "Safe Working Cycle" at their construction sites. The Safe Working Cycle is a schedule of activities carried out on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. It helps raise the safety awareness of workers. It adopts a pro-active approach, ensuring that any unsafe behaviour and condition are detected and rectified before they lead to any accident. This safety programme has been practised for more than 20 years in Japan and proven to be effective in improving the safety and health conditions of construction sites and workplaces.
I am glad to learn that quite a number of contractors have shown their interest to practice safe working cycle, and in fact, some of them have already made a start in July in their on-going contracts. To develop it further, Works Bureau is introducing a trial scheme of safe working cycle in our new contracts under the Pay for Safety Scheme. I hope this will help cultivate a new kind of safety culture in the Hong Kong construction industry.
In closing, I hope that the Quality Charter tonight is a matter of substance. I hope it can permeate to all levels of our construction industry and instill a quality culture to every member of our industry. We are all engaged on an exciting programme of quality drive. It is a programme that will demand commitment, alliance, and integration within the construction industry. Let us be well-prepared for this move. Let us chart a new course for our construction industry. Let us build quality projects. And more importantly, let us re-build the public confidence. Thank you.
End/Monday, September 18, 2000