The Ombudsman yesterday demanded the former Security Branch apologise for its 14 months' delay in considering an appeal by an overseas student who was denied a visa to study in Hong Kong. The student lodged an appeal to the branch (now named the Security Bureau) in October 1995 after his application to the Immigration Department for a visa had been rejected in September the same year. But the branch did not notify the applicant until December 1996, more than a year later, that the decision to deny a student visa had been upheld, said Elizabeth Wong Yam Lok-han, the Ombudsman's Principal Executive Officer. 'In fact, the appeal had been left unattended from May to December in 1996,' she said. The branch had admitted the delay in processing the appeal and laid the blame on its workload. But Mrs Wong said it was unreasonable to use a big workload as an excuse, adding that the branch should have issued an interim reply if it was aware that it could not respond immediately. After the Ombudsman found the complaint substantiated it made four recommendations to the branch which, however, accepted only two of them. It agreed to send a letter of apology for the delay and to remind staff members to attend to all appeal cases properly. But it rejected the other two recommendations: to look into ways to streamline and prioritise cases and to work out performance pledges. Mrs Wong said: '[Secretary for Security] Peter Lai Hing-ling says the existing procedure is already simple enough and there is extra manpower in the team. 'It is impractical to work out a performance pledge because every case is different,' she quoted Mr Lai as saying. But Ombudsman Andrew So Kwok-wing said the recommendations should stand because their explanations were against the principle of a fair, open and accountable government. 'We have no executive power. We can only investigate and work out recommendations. 'We will give the recommendations to the Chief Executive, to the Chief Secretary for Administration and to the lawmaking body for further examination if necessary,' he said. Ousted legislator James To Kun-sun, who looks into security matters, said it showed the branch was insincere in handling future complaints. 'I see no difficulties in working out the performance pledge. It's only a matter of determination. It will at least give a rough idea to complainants,' he said. Mr So said it was unusual for recommendations to be rejected. In the past two years more than 90 per cent had been accepted.