It would be very satisfying if the recorded drop in the number of complaints to the Ombudsman's office could be traced to a noticeable improvement in public services.
The 21 per cent fall in the last three months certainly looks too large to be a mere statistical blip. It comes after a number of years in which the figures have shown the number of people taking their cases to the Ombudsman to have been climbing steadily.
One factor which might have influenced the drop in numbers is the controversy over the decision not to renew the contract of the previous incumbent, Andrew So Kwok-wing. It is probably fair to say that the office never had so much publicity as it did in the days leading up to Mr So's departure. Rumours of him falling from official favour because of his decision to launch a third airport inquiry became a major talking point. But long before then, Mr So had raised the profile of the job, giving attention to areas which had not been previously thought of as the Ombudsman's province and criticising his own inability to investigate complaints lodged against the police or the ICAC.
Mr So ended his five-year tenure at the end of January while a new row raged over the appointment of a civil servant as his successor. Although Alice Tai Yuen-ying's background as a judiciary administrator means she has valuable experience, legislators feared that, as the wife of the Commissioner for Transport, there could be a conflict of interest. They also questioned whether someone with 24 years in government service could investigate colleagues with true impartiality.
It would be unfortunate if such circumstances caused a loss of confidence in the Ombudsman's office. It is a valuable watchdog, and must remain as active as ever. What the public wants to see is that it still has real bite. Otherwise people will feel disinclined to make use of its services.