We are not sure if Alice Tai Yuen-ying (below) was serious or just had a delicious sense of irony when her office gave this year's Ombudsman awards to the Leisure and Cultural Services, Housing and Social Welfare departments. The awards were for service excellence in their handling of public complaints. LCSD actually won the Grand Award. Considering the sheer volume of complaints against them over the years, there is no doubt the three departments have plenty of experience in 'handling the public', in every sense of the phrase. 'The [departments] achieved excellence in building effective internal administrative systems for quality public service, professionalism in handling complaints, and commitment to improving services to the public,' an Ombudsman press release said. 'They also actively supported the Office's investigations and contributed towards fostering a positive complaint culture.' A positive culture of complaints? Now that's a first. The Ombudsman received 492 complaints against the Housing Department in the last financial year. Social Welfare had 142 complaints, while LCSD had 114. The Housing Department has repeatedly topped all other government departments in terms of the number of complaints. But to be fair, this is hard to avoid when half of Hong Kong's 6.8 million residents live in public housing. The welfare department was ninth on the list in the previous two years. LCSD fared slightly better: it was 10th on the Ombudsman's top 10 departments complaint list in 2002-03 but dropped from it last year. Still, director of Leisure and Cultural Services Anissa Wong Sean-yee looked a bit embarrassed this week when she was handed the Grand Award. Wouldn't you if you had a months-long row over lifeguards' pay on your hands, so serious you now have to ask firefighters to moonlight as guard substitutes?