Learn from mistakes

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 1995, 12:00am

WHEN the Legislative Council Finance Committee first approved the $524 million funding request for computerisation of the police force, they did so on the understanding that it would free 500 officers for other duties by 1998. It was to be a major step in the civilianisation and modernisation of the force in preparation for the challenges of the 21st century.

That was in 1993. Two years on, having wasted time and taxpayers' money pursuing the wrong solutions, the police are not only no nearer their goal, they are in some ways further from it. The proposal put to the Finance Committee was so flawed it has had to be thrown away and the whole procedure started again from scratch. Unsurprisingly, the police will soon be back before the legislature demanding further funds, for a system which, though more efficient and suited to police needs, is unlikely to put as many terminals on desks as originally planned.

Even assuming the police have the training and skills to use the new equipment, the fiasco calls into question the validity of the original projections for jobs saved. It also throws into doubt the internal manpower rationalisation promised as part of last week's grandiose reorganisation plans to justify the creation of 1,900 new police posts elsewhere.

The police now admit mistakes were made. That is putting it mildly. A misplaced belief that 'real men' should be able to devise their own computer solutions without recourse to outside expertise resulted in the original choice of an outdated and unsuitable system. But it is extraordinary that neither Security Branch nor, subsequently, the Finance Committee chose to question the force's methods. Only after the new Assistant Commissioner for Information Services, Ben Munford discovered the problems for himself were computer consultants called in and the whole proposal overhauled.

Following a crisis meeting with Security Branch last December, the police are now preparing to put a new proposal to Finance Committee and claim they will still be able to meet the 1998 target for putting the new system in place.

However, legislators should scrutinise the revised proposal with care. And Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling and Commissioner for Police Eddie Hui Ki-on must be clear the proposed system is precisely what the police require - and has been properly costed - before it reaches legislators' hands.