Sunday, October 6, 2013

Penang Undersea Tunnel - Corruption by Proxy

Open letter to the Minister in the Prime Minister department, Paul Low Seng Kuan on the issue of corruption by proxy - Penang undersea tunnel.

Dear Sir,

On Oct 6, the Penang State Government formally signed a preliminary agreement with the Consortium Zenith BUCG to carry out feasibility study and detailed design for the Penang undersea tunnel project.

Consortium Zenith BUCG comprises a JV between Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd and China Railway Construction Co Ltd, together with Beijing Urban Construction Group, Sri Tinggi Sdn Bhd and Juteras Sdn Bhd.

On August 16, the Consortium awarded the feasibility study and design to the joint-venture (Zenith PMC and Astral Supreme Construction Sdn Bhd)

Why award the feasibility study and design to the joint-venture (Zenith PMC and Astral Supreme Construction Sdn Bhd)?

How can an inexperience construction company going to conduct a full range of constructability assessments , alignment studies, feasibility studies, preliminary design activities and provide cost estimates and schedules for project development and construction?

What are the in house resources that Astral Supreme can harness to develop geo-technical and laboratory testing programs, conduct geophysical surveys including cross-hole sonic logging, and conduct instrumentation monitoring for quality assurance?

Does the company has the software application to do NATM design and numerical modeling, including 2-D and 3-D analysis, and structural analysis and design?

Does the company has the specialties on dynamic load analysis and grouting and ground modification?

How well versed is the company in preparation of tunneling plans and specifications? How the company going to provide cost estimation?

Does the company has any expertise in the development of reentry safety and ventilation procedures?

The feasibility study should not be conducted as just a paper work. According to tunneling expert, the feasibility study should cover the following activities:

A comprehensive ground investigation program has to be carried out. Such a program should include additional geophysical investigations, probe drilling, and core drilling.

It is also important to locate major fault and fracture zones and to investigate the depths to competent bedrock adjacent to the tunnel portals. It should be recognized that if the tunnel is make of two uni-direction tunnel tubes, the width of the two tubes is close to 50m and the investigation need to cover a large area.

In order to further investigate the existent, strike, and dip of fault and fracture zones it is also necessary to carry out geophysical investigations (resistivity and refraction seismic investigations) on a certain distance and parallel to the planned tunnel alignment one line on each side of the tunnel. Adjacent to the tunnel portals it is also necessary to make similar studies on transverse lines. In order to calibrate the geophysical investigations it is necessary to drill some core holes along the tunnel alignment. Core holes should also be drilled in order to investigate the conditions of anticipated fault and fracture zones.

It is also necessary to locate the level of competent rock adjacent to the tunnel portals. Besides the geophysical investigations a comprehensive drilling program is necessary. The drillings should consist of percussion drilling and core drilling. As core drilling is expensive, a combination of percussion drilling and geophysical logging should be considered as a complement. In critical areas one investigation hole per 10m2 is foreseen.

Contrary to previous drilling the new investigation holes should reach below the planned tunnel floor.

In order to penetrate more fractures(fracture zones are normally dripping close to vertical) and also to investigate the conditions anticipated fault and fracture zones inclined core holes approximate 70 degrees, should be used. Near the tunnel portals it is also recommended to drill near the horizontal (30-40 degree) core holes along the tunnel alignment. In the core holes it will be necessary to perform water loss measurements(Lugeon tests) on a routine bases in order to evaluate the hydro-geological conditions of the bedrock.

Cores from the tunnel level should be subject to uni-axial compressive strength test and cover existing rock types. Rock stress measurements in any of the core holes should also be considered. Excavation of an investigation trench down to the tunnel level should be considered in connection to one of the tunnel portals as a complement to the investigations and drillings outlined above.

Astral Supreme Construction with it's limited exposure surely unable to carry out the feasibility study as outlined above by itself. It will end up acting as a middleman appointing a real tunneling expert to carry out the tasks.

According to the news report from the Edge, if the contract between Zenith and Astral is terminated, Zenith will reimburse all payment made to consultants by Astral. The joint venture agreement comes with a profit guarantee of RM15 million from Zenith. In the event the joint venture profit is less than RM15 million, Zenith shall pay to Astral an amount equivalent to the shortfall.

Now the strange question here is what is the rational to appoint an unknown and inexperience company to do the jobs with profit guarantee of minimum RM 15 million. This “middleman” company that does not bring any value to business transactions involving the Penang state government smacks of corruption by proxy. If we are greatly concerned with corruption by proxy, this unhealthy practice of using a middleman should be eliminated without hesitation.

Current laws may allow for the existence of middlemen, but for Lim Guan Eng who has been seen as champion against corruption, such unhealthy practices should not take place at all in his pet project, the Penang undersea tunnel project.

I hereby call upon the Minister in the prime Minister department, Paul Low to look seriously into this issue and refer it to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for further investigation if he is serious about corruption by proxy.

Ong Eu Soon

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