Hong Kong’s Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has finally refused to answer questions on repeated environmental violations at and around the Kai Tak Community Isolation Facility (CIF) construction site, after dodging enquiries for weeks.
A Transit Jam investigation two weeks ago found mainland contractor China State Construction to be in potential violation of Hong Kong laws in a number of areas, including open burning at the site, poor dust and smoke control, construction waste stored near a seawall, fuel not stored correctly and truck wheels not being washed as they left the site. There also appear to be many health and safety violations, including open unprotected pits, unprotected slopes and lax security.
The roads around the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and the new Hong Kong Children’s Hospital just half a kilometre away are caked in mud from the trucks, while minibuses serving the district are covered in thick layer of construction dust. Construction trucks waiting for site access illegally park and idle their engines, sometimes for hours at a time.
Video evidence and questions sent to EPD, the government department handling environmental affairs and environmental prosecutions of polluters, elicited no response for two weeks.
But yesterday, Yoyo Lo Ka-yiu, Assistant Information Officer with EPD, told Transit Jam by WhatsApp to “pls find relevant department or bureau. Thx”.
Lo did not reveal which bureau or department might be relevant for the case and did not respond to further questions.
Previous questions to EPD on general environmental issues at other CIF construction sites were rejected and referred first to the Food and Health Bureau, which declined to comment, and then to the Development Bureau, which referred all questions to a 4 March press release announcing the implementation of Emergency Powers.
Questions to the then-Chief Secretary John Lee, who ordered those Emergency Powers, went unanswered, while questions to the Chief Executive were referred back to the Development Bureau, which responded, again, with a referral to its 4 March press release.
That press release does not give any details of the Emergency Powers in play, what environmental laws are in place and who has environmental authority over the site and the public area around the site. Nor does it give any justification for why environmental, health and safety laws are unncessary at the protected sites.
According to the Emergency Powers signed by Lee, before he resigned and became the sole candidate in Hong Kong’s so-called “Chief Executive Election”, activities within the CIF construction sites are exempt from Hong Kong law.
However, there is no indication from the Emergency Powers that Hong Kong law does not apply at the boundary or public roads outside the site.
The government has contracted China State Construction to build nine Community Isolation Facilities, all enjoying the legal exemptions under Lee’s Emergency Powers.
The projects, to provide a total of 50,000 isolation beds, were announced around the peak of Hong Kong’s 5th pandemic wave, with public health infrastructure under pressure.
The first batch of CIFs completed together provided around 20,000 beds, while two of the largest planned, at Penny’s Bay and Kai Tak, will together provide an additional 20,000 beds upon completion.
When asked on 13 April why Hong Kong continues to build CIFs even as case numbers were “dwindling”, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city now had an “adequate supply” of isolation beds and would be returning facilities such as hotel rooms and public housing to the original use.