Three government departments yesterday admitted they were at fault in allowing banners bearing slurs against Aids patients to remain for years near a clinic in Kowloon Bay. The acknowledgment - made by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Home Affairs Department and the Lands Department - has essentially averted a possible landmark lawsuit against them. It follows years of conciliation sessions with the complainant, a male HIV patient, under the Equal Opportunities Commission. But a lawsuit is still looming for three or four residents of Richland Gardens who allegedly harassed workers at the controversial clinic that treats patients who have HIV and Aids. The three departments only acted to remove the posters and banners three years after construction of the clinic began in 1996 amid a fierce outcry from the public. The clinic began admitting patients in June 1999. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, which has assumed responsibility for the former Urban Services Department, was at the centre of the criticism. A platform set up on government land by angry residents to co-ordinate protests against the clinic was torn down in September 1999 by Lands Department workers after nearly three years. In a statement issued yesterday, the departments admitted they had caused grievance to the patients for reacting so slowly, although they stopped short of making a direct apology. 'Government representatives reaffirmed that vilifying banners, posters and structures on government land merit special attention and should be removed speedily,' the statement said. 'The incident has heightened the Government's alertness to discrimination against persons with a disability.' The departments promised to remind staff regularly about relevant procedures to increase their awareness of equality laws. But the vice-chairman of the Movement Against Discrimination, Dr John Tse Wing-ling, said the departments owed the public an apology. 'There should be some kind of settlement in a conciliation. They should at least make an apology publicly. I'm very disappointed,' he said. 'The statement is no more than a PR exercise which serves little educational effect for the public.' Dr Tse urged the commission to issue a reprimand on the wrong-doing. The chairman of the clinic's community liaison group, the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, said: 'I hope this will put a full-stop to the saga, which has dragged on for years. 'The Government was wrong for delaying its actions in removing the discriminative slogans and it should learn from the lesson and be more sensitive in handling this kind of situation.' The commission welcomed the admission last night without expressing further condemnation over the departments' behaviour.