Ombudsman probes free-entry scheme

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 December, 2008, 12:00am

The Ombudsman will investigate the booking chaos that marred a scheme this year that offered free admission to public recreational and sports facilities to mark the Beijing Summer Olympics.

The probe follows an Audit Commission report last month that criticised the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's administration of the scheme.

Assistant ombudsman Frederick Tong Kin-sang yesterday said the investigation would cover planning and execution of the sports scheme, and problems encountered in implementation, whether those problems had been anticipated, and measures taken to deal with them.

The free-admission scheme for leisure and sports facilities ran from July 1 to September 30 as part of celebrations to mark Beijing's historic staging of the Olympics.

It was also intended to encourage people to participate in sports.

Fees for recreational and sports facilities including badminton, volleyball, squash, table tennis, and swimming pools were waived.

But demand for bookings increased enormously. Mr Tong said the Office of the Ombudsman had received dozens of complaints about congestion in online booking sites, no-shows for pre-booked time slots at various facilities, and abuse of the scheme resulting in regular users being squeezed out.

The Audit Commission report said 547,000 hours of sessions at sports facilities booked under the scheme were not used.

Mr Tong said: 'While the Audit Commission's report is more about the good use of taxpayers' money, our investigation is more on the administrative side.'

Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying said: 'The scheme was a well-intended gesture for the community to share the joy of China hosting the Olympic Games.

'While it may be just a one-off exercise not likely to be repeated, the scheme does offer experience applicable to other projects. Our direct investigation should offer points for improvement.'