Survey-row workers promoted
Eleven researchers at the Census and Statistics Department accused of fabricating interviews and falsifying responses to questionnaires have since been promoted.
The department's acting commissioner, Fung Hing-wang, also admitted some field officers were continuing to flout the system.
A Director of Audit report into the department in 1998 found that 25 of 76 respondents said no contact had been made even though field officers stated they had telephoned or conducted face-to-face interviews.
Mr Fung contested the accuracy of the report, in which 15 officers were named. He said 11 had been promoted after discrepancies in the report were found to be mainly due to 'misunderstandings'. Two other officers had been sent warning letters and two were investigated and closely scrutinised.
The report said auditors phoned the 76 respondents and asked them to confirm in writing if any of the officers had made telephone contact or conducted face-to-face interviews on May 4, 1998.
The department - which provides indicators on social and economic development in Hong Kong, including gross domestic product details and the unemployment rate - had said the respondents probably suffered a memory lapse.
However, the auditors were adamant the respondents' written confirmation should be regarded as substantive evidence.
Topics covered in the surveys included retail sales, building and construction sectors and service industries.
Mr Fung said a new monitoring system had been established. But asked if the situation had been solved, he admitted officials still had to weed out the 'bad guys'.
'We have got about 300 to 400 officers. If I told you they were all perfect no one would believe me. By introducing the monitoring system . . . we have been able to check the responses . . . and we do manage to spot some bad guys and we end up disciplining them or giving them penalties,' he said.
Mr Fung's comments came after research giant ACNielsen was last month forced to tighten its fieldwork procedures to protect against fraud after the Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested 19 staff for allegedly falsifying interviews in a Tourism Board survey. The swoop followed a complaint that a manager had taken bribes to ignore the fact employees were making up responses to questions supposedly asked of tourists at Chek Lap Kok about spending patterns and satisfaction.
A market researcher said the problem was industry-wide and was usually due to lack of training for field workers.
Dr Paul Yip Siu-fai, senior lecturer in statistics at the University of Hong Kong, said it was imperative that field workers completed interviews accurately because the information was relied on to make policy decisions.
'This also applies to companies because the government has begun to contract out work to these firms which need to have a good internal auditing system and quality controls.'