Case Studies

Search Case Studies

All Areas of Concern

Search Case Studies

All Areas of Concern

Substandard work - piling

CS069 (Case 131)
Trades / Industries:

In January 2001, Lee & Wong Holdings Ltd (LW) awarded a $1,000 million contract to a main contractor for constructing four 40-storey residential blocks, a commercial complex and a car park.   The main contractor then sub-contracted  the  piling  work  to  another  company.    The  latter  in  turn awarded the work to Saar Piling Company Ltd (Saar) by simply deducting 15% of his original successful bid.  LW also appointed a consultant firm Joe & Partners (JP) to oversee the construction work.   The project was scheduled to be completed in twenty months and five months were allowed for the piling works.


JP deployed an engineer as the Project Manager (PM) to oversee the project but he was not required to be resident on site.   Occasionally, he would go to the site for meetings but did not carry out site inspections himself. Routine site inspection was left to an Assistant Inspector of Works (AIoW) and a Works Supervisor (WS) who were resident site staff appointed by JP. However, the AIoW had very limited experience in piling work.


As there were only two supervisory staff on site responsible for overseeing the whole piling works, the AIoW and the WS found it difficult to check every detail during the work process.  They could only rely on the records of Saar and sign the completion forms taking the face value without checking.


Due to unexpected difficulty encountered during the placing of reinforcement casings, LAM, Director of Saar, found that the piling work was behind schedule and a one-month delay was anticipated.   Saar, being a small sub-contracting company, found it difficult to bear possible substantial liquidated damage (LD) of $800,000 per day as stipulated under the main contract.


LAM then discussed the making of shortened piles with the foreman and site agent of the main contractor, who were always away from work and thus failed to monitor the work progress.  They thought that the specifications stipulated in the contract were conservative and shortened piles should cause no severe harm to the completed buildings resting on top of the piles.   They believed that the buildings would not be structurally affected.


LAM instructed his workers not to excavate the pile bores as deep as the proposed founding levels.   Instead, after the length of the reinforcement casings had been checked by the supervisory staff of JP, LAM asked his workers to cut the casings during night time when the consultant site supervisory staff were off duty.   LAM then manipulated a measuring tape by removing parts of its central portion so that it gave a reading longer than the actual measurement.   When the supervisory staff of JP measured the pile bore depth using the manipulated measuring tape provided and re-examined the reinforcement casing, they were not able to detect that the piles had been shortened.


One day, the WS of JP discovered that the length of the constructed piles did not match with the concrete delivery records for the piles.   He suspected that some of the piles might have been shortened.   He immediately approached LAM for an explanation for the irregularities discovered and the proposals for remedial actions.


LAM, after discussion with the foreman and site agent, went to the WS’s office to hand him an envelope containing $300,000 and plead him to turn a blind eye to the substandard piling works.   The WS immediately refused LAM’s request.


The WS immediately  reported LAM’s  offering of bribes to the ICAC. LAM, the site foreman and site agent of the main contractor were arrested and convicted of conspiracy to offer an advantage to the WS as a reward for turning a blind eye on substandard piling work.




  1. Why were LAM, the foreman and site agent convicted of corruption offences? What actions should you take when being offered bribes?
  2. How devastating would the damages be if a construction professional accepts advantages for turning a blind eye to substandard works? What are the consequences of such behaviour?
  3. What is the importance of site supervision at a construction site?

Case Analysis

Section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery  Ordinance (POBO)


LAM conspired with the foreman and site agent to offer the Works Supervisor $300,000 for his turning a blind eye to the substandard piling work was an offence under Section 9 of the POBO.   This section states that:

  • It is an offence for an agent (normally an employee) to solicit or accept an advantage without the permission of his principal (normally the employer) when conducting his principal’s affairs or business; and
  • The person who offers the advantage also commits an offence.


Report Corruption


The positive action of the Work Supervisor was a good illustration of the proper action to take when one was being offered a bribe: refuse the bribe immediately and report the matter to the ICAC.


Consequences of Corruption


Turning a blind eye to substandard works would result in building defects, causing the company extra costs to rectify the problem.  Worse still, such hidden faults in construction works would be hazardous to public safety.


Construction professionals should bear in mind the implications of substandard works to public safety, as their responsibilities to his employer and the profession should at all times be governed by the overriding interest of the general public.


In similar court cases previously, the judge commented that the defendants “place in jeopardy not only the structure and those using it but also the reputation of Hong Kong.   The potential consequences of their actions may quite fairly be described as disastrous.   The conduct of these Accused casts a shadow over the entire construction industry…”


Corruption could also bring devastating damage to one’s career and reputation. Construction professionals need to live by a high standard of integrity so as to resist the corruption temptations facing them in the workplace.


Site Supervision


The allocation of adequate resources to site supervision is crucial to ensuring the quality of works.   Site supervisory staff are sometimes inadequate, both in number and experience, and may therefore not be able to monitor the work of the contractor effectively nor promptly detect any fraudulent acts. Employers/consultants should deploy sufficient on site supervisory staff with appropriate training and experience.


The deployment of only technical staff on site is inadequate and professional input is important especially at critical construction stages.


Infrequent site visits by professional staff is not uncommon in the construction industry.   In fact, regular supervisory check is crucial in ensuring that the work complied with the required standard.   Supervisory staff should use their own measuring tapes in checking the pile depth.   In addition, the role of independent internal technical audit should also be strengthened so as to guard against any possible malpractice.

Back To Top