The little pothole that tripped up 7 departments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am


An insignificant little pothole on a playground footpath has exposed the absurdity of bureaucratic buckpassing after the Ombudsman revealed how it took seven government departments more than a year to get it filled in.

Alan Lai Nin yesterday upheld complaints against three of those seven departments. So far only Leisure and Cultural Services, which manages the playground, has apologised.

The farce began in March 2009, when the Lands Department received a complaint from a resident that a pothole had been found on a footpath leading to a playground. The pothole is on an outlying island but the Ombudsman did not reveal its whereabouts.

The Lands Department sent officers to inspect the hole. They then told the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to repair it.

The LCSD said that since the footpath fell outside the actual playground area, it was not responsible for repairing the hole.

At that point, the case was left unresolved.

Another complaint was made to a government call centre in February the next year. Six months later, with the pothole still very much in place, another resident complained to the call centre.

The centre, managed by the Government Efficiency Unit, transferred the complaints to six government departments, before the problem was finally fixed by the Architectural Services Department in August.

Lai yesterday criticised government frontline staff for being 'slapdash' and 'inert'. 'Their mentality is a far cry from the government's goal of being people-oriented,' he said.

'There is a general tendency for a department to say this has nothing to do with me and it is somebody else's job. It is easy to shift the blame to somebody else,' Lai said.

The Ombudsman said the problem could have been easily fixed when the first complaint was made, had any of the government departments been willing to do so.

The LCSD told the Ombudsman that its officers had been too busy to follow up the initial referral.

A spokesman for the department yesterday said it had since set up a database on recreation venues and had strengthened guidelines for frontline staff on handling complaints, including liaising more closely with other departments.

A spokeswoman for the Lands Department said it valued residents' complaints and would also be issuing guidelines to its staff on how to handle complaints.

The call centre, which was criticised for its handling of the complaints as well, said it, too, would introduce new guidelines, in addition to strengthening staff training.