Lessons that remain to be learned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 12:00am


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With the departure of key housing officials from their posts over the past two years, the Legco panel investigation on the public housing piling scandal seems something of an anti-climax.

It no longer makes sense for a select committee to demand punitive action against the three key figures in the scandal - even if it dares to - as two of them have stepped down and the third has taken up a different job.

In late June 2000, Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, the then Housing Authority chairwoman, resigned on the eve of the Legco vote of no-confidence in her and the then housing director Tony Miller.

Dominic Wong Shing-wah, the then housing secretary, retired in early 2002. Mr Miller became the Permanent Secretary for Financial Services in July.

Although the Legco panel says the trio should be held accountable for the scandal, the fact they are no longer in charge of housing has eased political pressure on the administration significantly. Tired of the debate over the target of building 85,000 flats, which was officially scrapped in 2000, the public will be indifferent to attempts to attribute the piling scandal to an alleged rush to meet the building goal.

They may already have formed their own conclusions. Firstly, they see the piling scandal and housing targets as part of the overall failure of housing policy. Secondly, despite all the talk about accountability, the government has yet to deliver.

People are not expecting senior officials such as Mr Miller, who was criticised in the report, to be given their marching orders.

Officials will try to shift public debate on to the process of improving the quality of public housing and streamlining the structure of housing policy. Barring unexpected politics in Legco, the piling scandal will fade into history.

However, the two-year trouble-shooting exercise over public housing construction will be an opportunity lost if the officials and professionals involved fail to learn their lessons.

As demand for accountability grows, officials will not only have to ensure responsibilities are clearly defined but that policies are implemented accordingly.

More importantly, a system and culture of accountability means there is a need to 'blow the whistle' when they find serious gaps between policy directives and the harsh realities.

Chris Yeung is the Post's Editor-at-Large