My Take

Hong Kong justice is swift - only for the little guy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 1:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2015, 1:16am

Caught in a crisis? Throw the little guy under the bus. That seems to be the way the government operates these days.

The water scare at Kai Ching Estate in Kowloon City just gets worse and worse. First, it was lead contamination. Now, it's legionella infection. So in no time, housing officials named plumber Lam Tak-sum as the one responsible, making sure the city's media corp knew his name.

As the contractor hired to install plumbing on the estate, Lam probably bears direct responsibility. But it's hard to believe he is the only one responsible. This is fake transparency, designed to shift the blame and focus on the small guy.

It's highly possible Lam's installation work was faulty. But that did not involve prefabricated parts and components for the water supply system at the estate. Who made and supplied the bronze pipes, depressurising valves and taps used in the system? What role did the main contractor - China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong) - play in this sorry saga? We are not told.

The Housing Authority has admitted it did not check for the presence of lead in the plumbing systems before allowing residents to move in.

A special task force has been formed to "get to the bottom" of the problem. Really? Of course officials knew, or at least could pretty much guess what caused the problems. Such task forces are set up to stall for time and delay the day of reckoning.

The method is reminiscent of the government's handling of the Lamma ferry disaster in which 39 people died and 92 were injured in 2012. The full weight of the legal system fell on the two captains, with one being jailed for eight years for manslaughter. However, passenger carrier Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry, Hongkong Electric that owned one of the vessels and the Marine Department all escaped criminal liability and would only face civil claims.

Despite obvious negligence, the department would not acknowledge wrongdoing until eight months after the tragedy and its officers did not face charges until this year, after the captains had faced justice.

When you are the little guy, you can expect swift justice, and being the first to be named and shamed. There is no one to take care of you.