The government is asking for a refund of HK$16.5 million from a mask supplier which provided 2.69 million unqualified masks procured by the logistics department in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
In a writ filed to the High Court last Friday, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok - on behalf of the director of Government Logistics Carlson Chan Ka-shun - said the surgical masks supplied by Refan Hong Kong Limited were found to have a bacterial filtration efficiency of below 95 percent, as specified by international standards.
The writ said that in February 2020, soon after Hong Kong recorded its first Covid
infection in January, the then-director of government logistics, Mary Chow Shuk-ching, purchased from Refan a million surgical masks for medical use, at a unit price of HK$7.2.
Chow completed the payment of HK$7.21 million to Refan in two incitements by February 26, and the masks were delivered on March 5.
But checks found the masks were not up to standard, breaching the procurement agreement.
"The 1.002 million units of surgical masks delivered by the defendants were not of merchantable quality and/or were not fit for the purpose for which goods of that kind are commonly bought, as their bacterial filtration efficiency was below the 95 percent requisite for medical use as specified by internationally recognized standards," the writ said.
In a separate procurement with Refan in March, 2020, Chow bought 1.688 million surgical masks from Refan at a unit price of HK$5.5 with a sum of HK$9.28 million.
But upon delivery, the masks were also found to fail to qualify for 95 percent bacterial filtration efficiency.
Chow subsequently rejected delivery of the two procurements of masks and sent a lawyer's letter to Refan in December that year.
Authorities are demanding Refan refund HK$16.5 million interest and costs.
The average price of surgical masks was about HK$1 each before Covid
hit Hong Kong, but prices skyrocketed up to tens of dollars amid short supply as citizens rushed to buy masks and anti-epidemic supplies.
From March 1 this year, Hong Kong dropped its mask mandate after almost three years, and local mask manufacturers have slashed their prices to clear stocks.