Serving and retired officials have been criticised by a watchdog on spending for issuing inaccurate information over the deterioration of the quality of water supplied from Guangdong.
In a report released yesterday, the Public Accounts Committee found some officials had supplied alarming and inaccurate information on the standard of Dongjiang water.
It found a 1996 government study, which showed water from Guangdong did not meet 1993 world standards, had never been released.
Officials had said the quality of water was acceptable after treatment.
Although sticking to the tradition of mentioning posts rather than names, the report clearly criticised Secretary for Works Lee Shing-see. It expressed 'grave dismay and alarm' at the remarks made by Mr Lee and Acting Director of Water Supplies Chan Pui-wah.
Retired former director of water supplies Wong Kwok-lai was accused of supplying inaccurate information.
Other officials were indirectly criticised for giving incomplete information at four meetings between 1997 and 1999. The meetings led to the approval of funding for making advance payment of water charges and a loan to Guangdong for water quality improvements.
The report said the administration maintained in meetings in 1997 and 1998 that 'there was no trend in quality changes of any proportion which warranted material concern'.
The administration also said 'there was no cause for alarm and that the water supplied was clean at source and was up to the standard stipulated in the 1989 agreement'.
The committee urged the administration to try to negotiate at a higher level to improve water quality.
A Works Bureau spokesman said: 'We would like to emphasise that it has never been our intention to mislead Legco on the deteriorating quality of Dongjiang water.' He said quality would be closely monitored by the Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection.
Committee chairman Eric Li Ka-cheung said: 'The criticism of the officials will be entered into their career record. We hope there will be a deterrent effect.' The Audit Commission said in its value-for-money report last October that more than $1.72 billion had been wasted in the past five years due to overflow of water from reservoirs, caused by the rigid water supply deal with Guangdong reached in 1989.