The failure of government departments to take effective action against traders blocking the city's pavements is making a bad situation worse, the Ombudsman said yesterday.
In a report issued yesterday, the government watchdog said obstructions on the pavement - including goods displayed outside shops and hawkers selling their wares - were forcing pedestrians onto busy roads.
It said the departments involved - including the Lands Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department - were reluctant to take the lead and "make serious efforts to find a complete solution to the problem". They were accused of procrastinating until district officials arranged a coordinated crackdown on the problem.
"Although the rent in Hong Kong is really high, the government needs to carry out enforcement actions better in the face of rampant and illegal street obstruction," said Connie Lau Yin-hing in her first report since taking over as Ombudsman in April.
Joanne Yip Nga-yan, senior investigation officer for the Ombudsman, criticised a tendency to warn rather than prosecute those who blocked pavements. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department issued 146,348 warnings last year, but began only 24,945 prosecutions.
She also questioned why the department rarely used its power to seize a trader's goods, which could prove a more effective deterrent than a fine.
The Lands Department also had the power to prosecute those who obstructed streets under a different law, Yip added, but it had to give notice, meaning offenders could avoid court by clearing up before the deadline.
She said one department should be responsible for co- ordinating enforcement action.
The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it would study the Ombudsman's report. A spokesman said department officers had started bringing prosecutions rather than issuing warnings to traders at some black spots.
The report comes as the Home Affairs Department considers ways to crack down on shop bosses who extend their businesses into the street. A consultation on ideas, which include a fixed penalty of HK$1,500, ends next month.