Checks not tight enough, statistics chief admits

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 April, 2009, 12:00am

The census and statistics chief has admitted that the department's quality checking system is not tight enough after staff miscalculated wage figures used in the bus fareadjustment formula.

Commissioner for Census and Statistics Fung Hing-wang said yesterday the census and survey officer - who was responsible for using wage figures provided by more than 100 companies to calculate the nominal wage indices for transport workers - made a mistake when she did a manual calculation. The error was related to the calculation of allowances.

'For example the allowance [figures] should have been obtained by multiplying by 30 days instead of 10 days, it's more or less like that,' Mr Fung said. He said the officer and a colleague checked the calculation, but both did not realise the error. 'We have checking procedures but [the system] is not tight enough,' he said.

The formula that determines bus fares is calculated after taking into account the composite consumer price index, nominal wage indices for transport workers and the operator's productivity rate.

Mr Fung and his colleagues felt sorry that the incident had affected the public, he said, and the officer involved felt guilty and unhappy.

The miscalculated wage figures were used in the fare-adjustment formula. Last month, the government said the formula produced an outcome of minus 3.03 - which is above the trigger threshold of minus 2 for a bus fare cut. But it issued a correction on Wednesday that the calculation should have been minus 1.26, which was too small to trigger a fare review. The negative figure of 3.03 was equivalent to a fare cut of 15 HK cents.

Considering the officer involved has years of experience, Mr Fung said he was surprised by the mistake.

The statistics department would improve the system by reducing manual calculation and enhancing checks, Mr Fung said. It was also hoped teams would cross-check data as well as let more senior staff review calculations if there were big discrepancies.

'The way that we immediately announced that the figures were wrong and have rectified the mistake shows our sincerity and integrity,' he said. 'The public ... can be assured that in future, all data that we collect and the statistics that we compile will be even more reliable.'

Mr Fung said the department realised the error after releasing the data, instead of being pressured by bus companies. But he admitted that First Bus and Citybus had inquired about the calculation.

Philip Yu Leung-ho, associate professor at the University of Hong Kong's statistics department, believed the improvement measures could reduce the chances of errors, but 'staff should also increase their data sense and cannot skip the review process because they think someone is reliable'.