Free sports badly handled: watchdog
A difficult-to-use cancellation system and a lack of publicity that it was available were two major reasons for a serious waste of public leisure facilities when free bookings were offered to the public last year, an investigation by the Ombudsman has concluded.
The three-month free-admission period to celebrate the Beijing Olympics was very popular, with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department receiving 2.49 million bookings in the 92 days to last September - twice that of the same period in 2007.
But 800,000 time slots, or 32 per cent of the bookings, recorded no-shows - an unusually high percentage for a free admission scheme: when indoor facilities and swimming pools were opened for free for two days in 2007 to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover, the no-show rate was 8 per cent. In some popular ball-game venues, wastage was as high as 78 per cent.
Overall, only 420 people cancelled their bookings.
Outgoing Ombudsman Alice Tai Yuen-ying said the department's arrangement for cancelling bookings and a lack of public awareness about the arrangements for doing so were to blame for the high level of wastage.
'Hirers could not cancel the booking online, nor was there any cancellation form for them to download,' she said. 'Despite this, 420 people still bothered to go to the trouble of cancelling the bookings. We should applaud them.'
The LCSD previously did not have a cancellation system. People who had hired out a facility would lose the booking fee if they changed or cancelled the time.
But two weeks into the scheme the department realised the wastage was serious and, considering that admissions were free, introduced cancellation forms at their counters.
However, Ms Tai said few people were probably aware of the service as it was neither advertised on radio nor through government notices.
The department was flooded with more than 1,000 complaints during the period, while the office of the Ombudsman received 23 requests urging it to investigate the matter.
Ms Tai would not put the matter down to poor administration on the part of the LCSD. She did suggest the department should reconsider how arrangements were publicised. Extra care should be taken to balance the interests of regular patrons and those attracted by the free bookings.
The department said it welcomed and accepted the comments.
Meanwhile, the office also urged the Education Bureau to encourage schools that received government grants for students with learning difficulties to be more open and transparent with the subsidies.
Currently, schools are eligible for funding or manpower support according to the number of special students they accept. However, they have full liberty on the money's allocation. This has sparked worries among some parents about whether the schools will use the subsidies for other purposes.