Lawmakers accused the government yesterday of acting slowly in replacing an ageing ambulance fleet, with the security minister saying that it could take up to three years despite the legislature approving funding last year. Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong told the Legislative Council that 196 ambulances, or 80 per cent of the 246-strong fleet, would be replaced by 2010, when the fleet's average age would be reduced from 8.4 years to 1.7 years. But lawmakers said the government should speed up the process - among them former security minister Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who said she was surprised that the replacement would take up to three years. She said that her memory may have faded since she headed the security bureau, but she did not recall that replacing ambulances could take so long. Mr Lee said the government would quicken the process if possible, but the purchase orders must go through a tendering process that took about a year. After a supplier was selected, it took about another year for the contractor to find and deliver the vehicles. He said the first 100 would be put into service before the end of next year while the rest would become available in the first half of 2010. The replacement will cost HK$240 million. The plan was announced after two patients died on their way to hospitals in July when the ambulances carrying them broke down. The Fire Service Department said later that the delay had not contributed to their deaths because they had no pulse and had not been breathing when medical staff arrived. An average of 76 ambulances were repaired in the first nine months of this year, compared to 79 during the same period in 2006 and 85 last year. Mr Lee said ambulance breakdowns usually peaked in summer, when heat and humidity placed a heavier burden on the vehicles' air-conditioning systems and batteries.