Ombudsman slams departments with compartmental mentality

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 July, 2010, 12:00am

The Ombudsman has accused some government departments of having 'a compartmental mentality', saying they tend to interpret their roles and responsibilities narrowly and are unable or unwilling to view matters from a wider perspective.

'They fail or refuse to see themselves as arms of the one and the same government. The result is inaction and poor interdepartmental co-ordination,' the Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin said in his maiden annual report for 2009-10, tabled to the Legislative Council yesterday.

The report said compartmental mentality remained prevalent in the government and such 'systemic problems' were found in the Housing Department.

A probe by the Ombudsman found that when handling complaints involving claims, the department considered them a matter to be dealt with by insurers, resulting in it overlooking its duty to get to the root of the problem and improve its services.

Another case concerned the Lands Department and the Buildings Department, which defined their respective responsibility for enforcement against unauthorised building works based on whether the works were in progress or not.

The Ombudsman urged government departments to pay serious attention to such mentality.

Lai said the principle of accountability should be upheld, as his office found some departmental management tended to attribute fault too easily to frontline staff.

The Office of the Ombudsman received 13,789 inquiries and 4,803 complaints for the year, down from 5,386 complaints a year ago, the report said. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department was the organisation that topped the list last year, with 475 complaints.

The office made 203 recommendations last year, after conducting more than 140 investigations.

From this month, the powers of the Ombudsman have been expanded to cover four more public organisations - the Auxiliary Medical Service, Civil Aid Service, Consumer Council and Estate Agents Authority.

Under fire

The five government bodies that were the subject of most complaints in 2009-10

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department: 475

Housing Department: 456

Buildings Department: 282

Hospital Authority: 238

Lands Department: 208

Total complaints: 4,803

Source: Ombudsman's 2010 annual report