Former Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, representing embattled concrete firm China Concrete, failed in his bid to appeal a long-standing government decision to shut down a polluting Yau Tong concrete yesterday when the High Court rejected the firm’s appeal against an Environmental Protection Department (EPD) decision to quash its licence.
In a decision handed down yesterday from an August 2022 hearing, judge Justice Coleman was unimpressed by any of nine grounds that Yuen and China Concrete presented to the court, rejecting them all and dismissing the case.
In October last year EPD had said it had conducted “ambush operations” to try to prosecute the plant, and says it is collecting “further evidences for other suspected offences”.
Yet despite this and despite yesterday’s High Court ruling, which upholds both the original EPD decision and an EPD Appeals Board decision, the plant is still working at what appears to be full-tilt this morning, with no environmental controls on dust or trucks in place. Dirt, dust, mud and diesel fumes from the plant and truck convoys cloud the whole street. Trucks are in and out of the plant every few minutes, in direct contravention of an agreement between EPD and China Concrete that trucks would be washed down and wait three minutes to “drip dry” before hitting the streets. The whole area is muddy and gritty with concrete plant detritus and dust.
China Concrete has long fought its closure order, alleging that a biased EPD simply wanted it to move from the area. According to the High Court decision, China Concrete had “spared no punches in its criticism of and challenge to the [EPD].”
The firm claimed, according to the ruling, that EPD had “deliberately and unlawfully targeted [China Concrete], with the view to driving it out of business.”
But the court found the company had, since at least 2017, repeatedly breached environmental laws and made a series of unfulfilled promises to rectify the situation. EPD had found many instances of mud and dust polluting the nearby environment, with no wheel-washing or effective dust control at the plant and no mitigation in place even when challenged. prosecuted and eventually threatened with licence revocation.
The plant’s neighbour, at 20 Tung Yuen Street and also owned by China Concrete, is in a similar position, and has been operating without a licence since last April.
EPD had said in April said it found “repeated” instances of malpractice at that site, and had prosecuted the owners last year for “suspected violations of the licence terms”.
A deadly incident at the plant entrance, where a worker was crushed by a concrete truck, highlighted some of the cowboy practices at the plants – yet it also emerged last year that the Labour Department had last visited either site 18 months ago, according to the government, with officials struggling to explain their lack of action. Trucks still careen into the gate-less entrance without indicating and at high speed.
China Concrete’s connections to Chinese corruption in the Congo
While the support of former Secretary for Justice for China Concrete raised eyebrows in some legal circles, China Concrete chairman Patrick To Shu-fai also enjoys some privileges as Honorary Consul to the Democratic Republic of Congo, a corrupt African state known for dodgy deals with Chinese enterprises. A Bloomberg investigation in November 2021 found millions of dollars earmarked for infrastructure flowed through Chinese-run Congo Construction Company (CCC) into the pockets of former Congo President Joseph Kabila’s family and allies.
In his role as Congo’s “business ambassador”, Patrick To Shu-fai keeps a black Rolls-Royce with diplomatic tags at his 7,000 sq ft Kowloon Tong mansion. Honorary consuls may enjoy some diplomatic privileges, including use of a diplomatic pouch and protections for their “consulates”, in some jurisdictions. A visit to the registered address of the Honorary Consulate in Sheung Wan found a Chinese financial services firm and no mention of the consulate.
EPD has still not responded to questions on whether the company or chairman To applied for any diplomatic immunity in his dealings with authorities or whether this appointment or connections to state-owned Chinese-Congo businesses might explain the apparent lawlessness of the Yau Tong plants in persistently avoiding prosecution and shut-down.
This morning’s visit to the Yau Tong district found nothing much had changed since last year, when Transit Jam had described it as “a lawless zone more reminiscent of the Kings Roman Chinese gangster enclave in Laos than the thriving Hong Kong seaside district put forward by the then-Planning Department in 2002”.
Kwun Tong District Council had set up a dedicated Working Group to tackle the issue of China Concrete’s nuisance in 2020, but government officials refused to attend the meetings, instead sending letters pledging to clear up the situation – the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), for example, said it would work with the police to clamp down on leaking cement trucks.
“If any material such as mud is found to be left on the road, we will report to the person concerned and prosecute,” said FEHD in a written response to the Working Group. No such prosecutions have ever been recorded.
One proposal to move the concrete plants to Tseung Kwan O’s “Area 137” may come under renewed challenge, with the government’s Development Bureau this week talking of turning that area instead into a posh residential enclave.