THE ombudsman's office has become a victim of its own success as it struggles to clear a backlog of more than 100 complaints. Lam Tin residents organised a demonstration at the watchdog body's offices to protest about the seven months it took to investigate a complaint against the Housing Authority and the Education Department. A spokeswoman for the Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, the ombudsman's official title, said complaints were now taking an average of three to five months to process. At the end of April there were 120 waiting to be dealt with. The backlog follows a change last June, which allowed the public to complain directly to the ombudsman. Previously, cases had to be referred by non-official legislators. Compared with the year ending June 1994, the 10 months to April witnessed an eight-fold jump in the number of complaints to 1,072. Inquiries have more than doubled to 2,909. The spokeswoman admitted the situation may not improve even after the addition of the 10 extra posts promised in the budget. Since last June, the number of staff has risen by 19, to 46. Legco's Establishment Sub-committee is to vote on the office's application for the new posts on Thursday. She said their workload may continue to grow. Since March, the public can also appeal to the ombudsman if their requests for government information are rejected. Deputy commissioner Sarah Wu Po-chu denied the situation was serious but refused to say when the office would see a fall in their average processing time. She stressed many cases took less than five months to be processed. 'Of course, the quicker the better. But we cannot do that at the expense of quality,' she said. The office was already doing a very efficient job, she said, since staff growth was far below that of the number of complaints. But vice-chairman of the Hong Pak Court tenants' association in Lam Tin, Wong Kin-wah, said they complained last June that the Housing Authority and Education Department had reneged on a pledge to build a secondary school in their area. The ombudsman finished investigating the case in March. Mr Wong claims the investigation was not done properly, and the ombudsman's office, who found their complaint to be unsubstantiated, had made factual errors in its report. Legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said five months was an unacceptable time for the Government watchdog to spend on complaints as many things would be irreversible by then.