Blatant waste of taxpayers' money

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Our civil service is often hailed as one of the world's finest. But cases of misspending unearthed by government auditors suggest otherwise. In its latest value-for-money analysis, the Audit Commission has exposed a string of blunders and negligence that saw tens of millions of taxpayers' money wasted. The performance of some departments still leaves much to be desired.

Two departments, one responsible for food safety and the other for water supply, have been rightly criticised by the spending watchdog for not doing their job properly. Last year, as much as HK$160 million in water tariffs was lost due to faulty meters and illegal water consumption, but the Water Supplies Department did not take any active steps to rectify the situation. The problems concerning the way in which the department manages our city's water supplies have long been recognised. The department was criticised by the Ombudsman last year. The auditors also raised concerns over whether packaged food is as safe as claimed by the Centre for Food Safety. While the centre reported a 99.3 per cent compliance rate for the new labelling law on nutrients like fat and protein, separate checks by auditors showed 60 per cent of the samples were found to have flouted the requirement. The discrepancy may be attributed to two different samples, one drawn from supermarkets and the other from smaller outlets. But the centre's tests appear to be based on biased sampling which can lead to consumers being given misleading information.

Government spending has hit HK$300 billion a year. The frequent bureaucratic inefficiencies unearthed by auditors suggest civil servants are not taking sufficient care with public money. A lax approach and reluctance to depart from long-standing procedures are perhaps at the root of the problem. There is a need for greater caution and a more diligent approach to ensure money is not wasted. Every dollar in the public purse has to be well spent.