Scheme to help Fa Yuen Street fire victims 'just not enough'

Fa Yuen Street fire victims and a hawkers' concern group slam government over its assistance plans they say lack thoroughness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 March, 2013, 5:30am

The government has been criticised for its lack of a comprehensive plan to help the hawkers and residents affected by the 2011 fatal Fa Yuen Street fire.

The criticism came after an inquest into the Mong Kok blaze last week returned a 3-2 majority verdict of accidental death on the nine people killed.

The United Hawkers Development Platform and Chan Kong-chiu, a Fa Yuen Street hawker of 36 years, yesterday said the government's scheme to subsidise improvements to the stalls of the city's 4,300 hawkers in the 43 fixed-pitch hawker areas was not thorough enough.

The HK$230 million plan, to kick in later this year, would see the government subsidising enhancements to the stalls' structures and electrical system.

"But the scheme excludes the purchase of fire extinguishers," Chan said, adding that the items were important to ensure the safety of hawkers and shoppers.

"We want to buy and install an extinguisher between every two stalls," he said.

Platform member Fan Pui-ying said the government required all hawker stalls to be at least 1.5m apart to provide an escape route in the case of a fire.

But the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department had an unwritten rule of tolerance for a stall that fell not more than 0.5m short of the requirement, she said.

Fan said problems arose when some department officials chose not to follow the unwritten rule and slapped hawkers who took advantage of the 0.5m tolerance with a warning letter and a fine of about HK$300.

The inconsistency confused the hawkers. "The government should make it clear in black and white whether the [0.5m difference] is allowed," Fan said.

Meanwhile, Fa Yuen Street resident Andy So Kwok-suen also criticised the government for not doing enough to help the evacuated residents. He has been living in interim housing since the blaze in November 2011.

"It's been 1½ years. The government hasn't actively helped me on this. I hope to move into a public subsidised flat," So said.

Separately, Director of Fire Services Andy Chan Chor-kam yesterday rebutted the coroner's comment that it took his department more than a year to complete their probe but yet could not find the cause of the blaze.

He said his department had in fact submitted their report to the police last June, after six months of investigation. They could not find any concrete evidence to determine the cause behind the blaze, and so decided to indicate it as "unknown", he said.