Findings and recommendations of lead-in-water inquiry must be released in full

Those affected and people across Hong Kong have every right to demand answers and to see that those responsible are held accountable

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 12:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 12:33am

Health scares are always accompanied by fear. When levels of lead exceeding international standards were found in the water at public housing estates last summer, residents and people across Hong Kong had every right to be worried and demand answers. Authorities promptly responded, providing safe supplies, putting in place corrective measures and ordering an inquiry headed by a judge. The investigative team’s report is now in government hands and after review, has to be quickly released in full.

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These steps are what the community requires and demands. Among the government’s responsibilities is ensuring safe water. We need to know who was behind the failure to provide this to about 29,000 households in 11 estates and what can be done to prevent it or a similar incident from happening again. Those responsible have to be held accountable; people whose health is proven to have been adversely affected have every right to seek redress.

For those reasons, the government has to ensure transparency. Yet doubts have been raised, with an announcement that the report will be scrutinised for parts that may need to be withheld from public release. This is what happened with the Lamma ferry tragedy report, authorities justifying the removal of particular sections so as not to affect criminal proceedings. But the action also raised suspicions that efforts were being made to hide details or protect officials responsible for enforcing safety regulations.

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Exposure to excessive quantities of lead in water can cause anaemia, pain and fatigue. High levels in the blood of young children can hamper their development and cause permanent behavioural problems. These are serious matters that cannot be ignored and officials and building contractors involved in such a scandal should not be allowed to shirk their responsibilities. The inquiry gathered important information from the 67 witnesses questioned that those affected need to know. Authorities have a responsibility to release all the findings and recommendations.