All too common case of dithering

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2013, 4:25am


Mainlanders had a bit of fun recently mocking official clichés on a microblog hosted by the People's Daily, after the country's new leadership called for an end to long speeches and meetings in a drive for better governance. One example that sticks in the mind is "relevant department", a phrase used to blur responsibility for dealing with bad news or a tricky issue.

Alas, the "one country, two systems" arrangement does not prevent that resonating in Hong Kong. Here it often takes the form of inaction through bureaucratic buck-passing to the "relevant department".

The latest example involves the departments of Land, Transport and Home Affairs and a piece of land in a New Territories village, for which they are responsible in different ways. For 30 years it has been used illegally for parking, hawking and even clothes drying by nearby residents while the departments dithered.

The Transport Department even added anti-skid road surfacing to the site's access point, but advised against charging for parking because there was adequate parking nearby.

Now the office of one man, the Ombudsman, has broken the circuit of buck-passing by getting the three departments to agree on the need to communicate on how the land, about the size of two basketball courts, should be used.

This saga would be funny if it were an isolated case. Sadly it is not uncommon. In the most egregious example, division of responsibility between departments and agencies is the bane of environmental officials and non-governmental organisations trying to prevent illegal dumping in the New Territories, as well as other land and development abuses, and hold people accountable.

If the new administration of Leung Chun-ying can devise an effective mechanism for co-ordinating overlapping authority, that would be a meaningful legacy of better governance.