Two simple questions that met a smokescreen of obfuscation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 February, 2009, 12:00am

They seemed to be simple, straightforward questions. 'Is an investigation under way into the fire on the barge during the Lunar New Year fireworks display? And which department is in charge of it?'

But rather than the expected 'Yes, there is an investigation and Department X is responsible,' the South China Morning Post found itself sucked into a merry-go-round of bureaucratic obfuscation.

It began with the Fire Services Department, which said its initial investigation had been completed and the information would be passed to the relevant authorities ... but who exactly they were was a little unclear.

The Information Services Department, the government's public relations arm, said: 'We don't know, we think it's something to do with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, but leave it with us.'

'The case is being investigated by relevant departments,' the LCSD said. 'Being the department co-ordinating the logistics for the fireworks display, [it] will co-ordinate with relevant departments in reviewing the arrangements and to make improvements for future displays if deemed necessary.' It also suggested the Marine Department and the mines division of the Civil Engineering and Development Department were among the 'relevant departments'.

Questions to the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) had to be routed through the Development Bureau, but the woman who handled those sorts of questions was not there, the Post was told. Someone else agreed to take the questions and pass them on.

The CEDD acknowledged it had a licensing role, had one report of an incident involving the same company, and referred questions on policy to the Home Affairs Bureau - which had referred questions to the CEDD and the Marine Department.

Calls to the Marine Department proved far more helpful, however. Its investigators 'are looking into the incident', a spokesman said, stressing that from a departmental perspective the probe was at the stage of an informal investigation.

As for the Post's other questions, he said: 'They really should have been answered by our colleagues in the other bureaus and departments.'

And the circle was complete.