Officials stalled over hawker stall for 2 years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am


The ombudsman criticised three government departments that allowed a hawker to trade from an illegal structure on a pavement for two years while they bickered among themselves about what to do.

In a report released yesterday, the government watchdog also described the attitude of transport officials as unenthusiastic over closure of a metered parking space for more than three months to allow for roadworks that took just 18 days.

The ombudsman first received a complaint about the hawker stall in 2009. Problems arose when the hawker, who ran a properly licensed stall, built a second structure measuring several dozen square feet adjacent to the stall.

When the complainant went to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which regulates hawker activity, they were told that the department could do nothing as the hawker was working from the stalls and was therefore not operating 'on the street'.

The Lands Department said it could only act over a concrete structure at the base of the stall and would need the Buildings Department to first order the demolition of a canopy covering the stall. The Buildings Department, for its part, said it could not act as the Buildings Ordinance applied only to private land.

After further inquiries from the ombudsman's office, which received a second complaint about the stall last year after reports of 'an elevated degree of business activity' there, the hygiene department sought legal advice from the Justice Department and reversed its stance.

In his report, Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin said: 'All three departments, with their compartmental mentality, had attempted to evade their responsibilities.'

Describing the hygiene department's approach as conservative, Lai said: 'In practice, they should have been brave enough to take action. This is an obvious breach of the [hawking] law.'

He urged the hygiene department to take 'prompt and stringent' action against the hawker and the other two departments to remove the structure.

The ombudsman did not identify the complainant or the hawker, or say where the stall was located.

In another case, the ombudsman revealed that the Transport Department had not monitored how utilities companies doing roadworks had made use of metered parking spaces it had ordered closed.

While monitoring was introduced in 2010, it remained unsatisfactory, causing inconvenience to drivers and wasting public resources.

'The Transport Department's approval of estimated times required for closure [has been] overgenerous,' Lai said. 'The department's attitude is not serious enough - it's unenthusiastic. It looks like a simple issue, but for road users, it's really an inconvenience when they have trouble parking their cars.'