Watchdog widens scope for complaint

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2011, 12:00am


Hong Kong's Ombudsman could be in line for a much bigger caseload after redefining who is eligible to make complaints.

The Office of the Ombudsman says it will adopt a more liberal interpretation of an 'aggrieved person', allowing it to accept complaints lodged by people who are not directly affected by maladministration.

The change of approach comes after the watchdog rejected a complaint from Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan in August last year about several government departments and officials, including Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Chan said they did not do their best to preserve a 70-year-old pine tree at a protected site at Maryknoll Convent School in Kowloon Tong.

Her allegation was rejected on the grounds that she was not an 'aggrieved person' under the old definition, which stated the complainant had to be 'personally' aggrieved.

In his latest report, Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin said he had reviewed the definition and decided to adopt a more liberal interpretation.

Under the old definition, an aggrieved person should be directly and personally aggrieved by the alleged maladministration. The new definition allows anyone who can establish a reasonably arguable case that he has sustained injustice in consequence of maladministration to be an aggrieved person.

Lai said he conducted the review after a complaint was screened out during the assessment process. A spokeswoman for his office declined yesterday to specify which complaint was screened out.

'The new definition is considered a more proper interpretation after consulting our legal adviser,' the spokeswoman said. 'We will accept the complaint as long as the complainant can demonstrate how the malpractice has affected him generally.' She said the office expected to handle more public complaints under the new definition.

Chan welcomed the decision, saying a lower threshold would allow more investigations into malpractice in the government. Barrister and fellow party legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee called it a positive change.

Chan had complained that the Antiquities and Monuments Office, Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Lam, in her capacity as the Antiquities Authority, had not done their best to protect trees growing on the Maryknoll campus in Waterloo Road, which was declared a monument site in 2008.

Trees growing on such a site are not protected as part of the monument. But the site's owner must apply to the monuments office if he wants to plant or remove a tree, to avoid damaging historic structures.

According to the government, Maryknoll removed 18 trees in December 2008 without prior notice to the monuments office, saying there was a pest attack and the school needed to ensure safety. Neither did it submit details of drainage work that took place in January last year, although the work permit required it to do so. The drainage work resulted in damage to more than half of the roots of the historic pine. The tree was felled a month later.