Why complainers deserve a hearing
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As we in Hong Kong worry about our economic woes, wring our hands over the political crisis and ponder on ways to lead the city to a better future, it is reassuring to note that there is one thing we are getting better at all the time: moaning.
Statistics show that we are quickly becoming a city of whingers. Complaints to official bodies have rocketed in recent years, as the angry and the aggrieved choose to vent their spleen rather than suffer in silence. But one of the prime organisations responsible for receiving and investigating such complaints has a gripe of its own. In this year's annual report, the Ombudsman's office has ... well, complained, about people wasting its valuable time by filing irrational and trivial grievances. The office, which conducts probes into maladministration in government, has seen the number of complaints it receives surge to 4,382 in the last financial year, and more are received every day.
This newspaper would like to add one more. We hope it is neither irrational nor trivial. Our complaint is that Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying should not be complaining about complainants. It is her job to be on the receiving end of all manner of grievances. She is the chief collector of complaints, a minister for moans. Trivial ones should be easy to recognise, and disposed of swiftly.
True, some of the examples her office has cited do not fall at the more serious end of the scale. And some, no doubt, would have been irritating to deal with. Take the man who felt 'greatly embittered' when RTHK failed to play a song he had requested on the radio. He mounted an intensive telephone campaign against both the radio station and the Ombudsman's office - even after the song had been played. This was going too far. But even this case raises an important point: the aggrieved radio listener clearly felt strongly about the matter. To him, it was not trivial - and he wanted a means of expressing his unhappiness to someone in authority. In this way, the Ombudsman's acceptance of even trivial complaints represents a public service.
In the past, Hong Kong people have been accused of being too subservient. But improvements in education and living standards, along with changing views of the role of the government, have helped them find their voice. As our economic woes continue, many people are discontented. Let's face it; there is much for them to complain about. Whether by telephoning radio talk shows, writing letters to newspapers, protesting to official bodies or marching in the streets, the complaint culture is growing. Officialdom may not like it but it will contribute to making government more efficient and more accountable. Some of the grumbles are bound to be irrational or trivial, just as others will inevitably be self-serving. This may be frustrating, annoying, and a waste of resources. But it is also to be expected, and something which bodies like the Ombudsman's office have to live with.
The whingers and moaners should not be discouraged from airing their grievances, especially at a time when everyone from the chief executive down is expressing the need for officials to listen to the people. After all, the Ombudsman's office accepts the problem is 'not serious.' It spoke of there having been at least 20 cases involving an irrational agenda in the last financial year. With a total of more than 4,000 complaints received, this is hardly a disturbing number. It is good to see that the Ombudsman's concerns about such cases have not prevented her office from dealing with them fairly. 'We processed these complaints in the usual manner and with an open mind,' says the annual report. In future, the Ombudsman should concentrate on dealing with complaints from the public, not making complaints about the public.