Hong Kong bureaucrats blind to massive, illegal dump site

Tin Shui Wai, a low-income district full of new immigrants and public housing residents, is paying the price of civil servants too busy twiddling their thumbs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 11:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 11:24pm

Our politicians may be useless (the pro-establishment camp) or crazy (pan-democrats). But at least our colonial-trained civil servants are supposed to be able to keep the trains running on time.

But if the government’s response to a dangerous dump site in Tin Shui Wai is any indication, our vastly overpaid bureaucrats are mostly sitting on their behinds, twiddling their thumbs.

The “waste hill” is four storeys high and as big as two soccer fields, so it’s hard to miss. Nearby residents have raised questions not only about hygiene but also safety.

The Lands Department essentially said “no can do” because the site is private and the conditions of the land lease are such that the landowner can do whatever it likes with it. Not to be outdone, the Environmental Protection Department said, without a hint of irony, that there was no evidence of illegal dumping of waste. How does the EDP decide what waste is legal or illegal? By looking at it?

The Planning Department has been a bit more proactive. It has determined that land excavation and land filling work were carried out, but it still has to investigate further before deciding whether anything untoward has been happening at the site.

READ MORE: Danger: Hong Kong government departments rule that massive Tin Shui Wai ‘waste hill’ is potentially unstable

So three government departments basically told Tin Shui Wai residents to live with it. Actually, memories of a deadly landslide at a waste dump just across the border in Shenzhen in December are still fresh. That tragedy killed 69 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings.

The Tin Shui Wai site is nowhere nearly as huge as the one in Shenzhen and does not pose the same geotechnical dangers. Still, a cardinal rule of effective civil service is to feign concern when the public is worried. That our civil servants have finally done, as public outcry intensifies. An “inter-departmental” meeting was held and officials promised to take “joint enforcement action”.

There are “potential” dangers, after all, due to “the lack of proper compaction” of the waste. The landowner has been ordered to take remedial actions, including shotcreting the dumps.

Would all this have happened – including the existence of the dump site – anywhere else in Hong Kong besides Tin Shui Wai, a low-income district full of new immigrants and public housing residents? You know the answer.