Stuck in time

Despite being a decade in the making, the new prison in Coloane is not complete yet, and there’s no clear time frame delineating when it will be.

Cost overruns and delays seem to be inevitable for local major public infrastructure projects, with some mocking this behavior, dubbing it the “new normal” in the city. For instance, the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) only became partially operational with the opening of the Taipa route at the end of last year, after 17 years of planning and building.

This notorious list also includes the long-delayed prison in Ká-Hó, Coloane, whose completion date is not yet clear in spite of a decade of construction, a slap in the face of the close-to-full capacity held by the existing prison facilities for years.

The works for the new prison, divided into four phases, started in August 2010. Originally scheduled to be finished by end-2014, the construction for the new prison, boasting a floor space of over 69,000 square metres in a 26,000-square-metre land plot, is still ongoing as of today, with only the first two phases completed so far.

According to the Correctional Services Bureau, which is in charge of maintaining inmates and the relevant facilities in the territory, the third phase of the construction of the new prison — including an administrative building, an inspection building, training facilities and staff quarters — began last year and is expected to be concluded by May next year.

The works for the fourth phase – installing security devices, network and communications systems – will only start after the conclusion of the third phase, which has been awarded to the Shanghai Construction Group (Macau) Ltd, a subsidiary of the eponymous firm owned by the Shanghai government, the bureau said.

The budget for the first three phases of the prison, which is designed to accommodate about 2,700 inmates, stands close to nearly MOP 2 billion (US $250 million). But there is not a confirmed figure for the fourth phase because it has not been opened for tender yet, they said. Furthermore, there is no timetable for the completion of the entire project.

Unstable structure

The reasons behind the delays in the first two phases — the first phase took about four years for completion, while the second phase took approximately three years — were linked to various factors such as the problem of the quality of the construction materials, the unstable soil structure of the construction site, typhoons and others, the bureau explained. In order to ensure the completion of the third phase in accordance with the schedule, communications with other government departments and the contractor will have to be strengthened.

MOP143.19 mil
Cost of first phase of new Coloane prison

MOP1.05 bil
Cost of second phase of new Coloane prison

The Land, Public Works, and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT), which is in charge of overseeing the construction of the new prison and other public infrastructure projects here, has previously noted that the location of the new prison on the slope made it more difficult for the contractors to collect soil samples before initiating the works. Thus, the construction plan had to be amended while works were already underway, which meant that the relevant analysis and approval procedure of the new plan caused delays, DSSOPT has explained.

The Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak recently remarked that he was “more concerned than anyone else” about the progress of the new prison, adding that he has been communicating regularly with the Secretary for Transport and Public Works Raimundo Arrais do Rosário about the project.

Lack of penalties

Legislator Ella Lei Cheng I believes that the severe delays experienced with the new prison project were due to the below average work carried out by the contractors in their preliminary surveying and engineering design, as well as the problems in the government’s supervision system – namely the lack of penalties. “The government has always said there are a lot of hurdles concerning the new prison project, which, however, underscore the fact that there are problems in many aspects of public infrastructure projects”, she noted.

“The government rarely imposed penalties upon contractors [for delays and other problems] in the past, and, in its previous reports on public infrastructure projects, the Commission of Audit also criticised the government for not holding contractors accountable [for any problems related to the construction], as they should have been in accordance with the laws”, the lawmaker said. “The delays and budget overruns, as well as the lack of disciplinary actions taken by the government against the contractors in the past might make [the latter] take the project deadline less seriously than they should.”

STDM linked

The first phase of the new prison project – building the road network, observation tower, peripheral walls, surrounding facilities and power substations – was awarded to Zhen Hwa Harbour Construction Co Ltd in two contracts worth a total of MOP 143.19 million. Zhen Hwa was a subsidiary founded by state-owned China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd in 1982 which became a joint venture in 2004 with a capital investment from SJM Investment Ltd, a subsidiary of the transport-to-tourism-to-investment conglomerate Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM).

According to the company’s latest records, China Harbour Engineering holds 51 percent of interest in Zhen Hwa, while the remaining 49 percent is held by SJM Investment, with Daisy Ho Chiu Fung — the Macau casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd chairperson — also acting as one of the directors of Zhen Hwa.

Zhen Hwa has been involved in various private and public projects — including some gaming properties under the SJM umbrella such as Grand Lisboa, Casino Oceanus and others — as well as the new Taipa Ferry Terminal, which has also faced major delays and overruns. The ferry terminal project was scheduled to be completed in 2007, but was only concluded in 2015, and became operational in 2017. Zhen Hwa was not available to comment on this story.

Public coffers

The second phase of the new prison project – consisting of factories, inmate cells and complex building – was awarded to Soi Kun Engineering Co Ltd for a total of MOP 1.05 billion. This local veteran engineering firm is headed by legislator Mak Soi Kun, who has a 70-percent direct stake, while the remaining share is owned by another local construction industry figure, Sam Hoi Si. Soi Kun Engineering was also not available to comment on this story.

“The local public security has become more complicated given the robust economic development over the years, … but the new prison project should not face any further delays”, said legislator Song Pek Kei. “After years of delay, the SAR government should strengthen its supervision over the Ká-Hó prison construction through a rigid and comprehensive mechanism, ensuring the last two phases of the works are completed in accordance with the timetable.”

She also believes the authorities should have a comprehensive review of how they could better oversee public infrastructure projects here, thus enhancing the quality and efficiency of the public works. “Ensuring the proper usage of public coffers is paramount”, she added.

Optimising the existing prison

The inmate cells of the existing prison in Coloane will be optimised to accommodate more people, as there is no completion date yet for the new prison, the Correctional Services Bureau said.

According to the bureau’s latest figures, there were 1,636 inmates in the existing prison as of October 2019 – 1,435 males and 201 females. The occupancy rate for male cells reached 93 percent, while the rate for female cells hit 75 percent, the bureau said, adding that the existing prison is now able to cope with as many as over 1,800 inmates.

The bureau also stated that it would invest about MOP 15 million (US $1.88 million) this year to optimise the existing prison space to enhance the capacity by 100 persons. This adjustment procedure has been consistent over the years; for instance, 20 more spaces were added in 2018.

Pale in comparison

While it’s taking a decade or more for the city to conclude some public infrastructure projects here – think of the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) and the new Coloane prison – some projects in the Asian region with a larger and more complex scale have taken less time for completion instead.

Zhixi Yangtze River Bridge

This world’s second largest steel-plate composite beam suspension bridge is located in the Hubei province, and it was built with an investment of RMB 2.767 billion (US $398.80 million). The constructor took less than four years to complete this 3,234 meter-long bridge with six bidirectional lanes which became operational in 2016.

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

The world’s longest cross-sea bridge, backed by the administrations of the Guangdong province (Hong Kong and Macau), involved a 55-kilometre-long bridge and a tunnel system. It experienced delays and budget overruns, and took about eight years to be completed. Originally scheduled to open to traffic in late 2016, the bridge with a price tag of 127 billion yuan (US $18.8 billion) became operational in October 2018.

Beijing Daxing International Airport

This new airport in the Chinese capital, with an area of more than 1 million square metres, became operational in September 2019. It features a 700,000-square-metre terminal in a 47-square-kilometre land parcel, and it earned a reputation as the world’s largest single-building airport terminal. With an investment of about US $63 billion, the construction of the project only took about five years.

Incheon International Airport Phase 3

The South Korean government invested 4 trillion won (US $3.39 billion) to expand the largest airport in the nation, adding a second terminal building and other facilities. With a construction period of about six years, the construction for the third phase was completed in 2017, allowing the airport to handle 62 million passengers and 5.8 million tonnes of cargo a year now, up from the past capacity of 44 million passengers and 4.5 million tonnes.