My Take

Hygiene officers appear to lack common sense

Overzealous staff of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department must stop targeting people for frivolous offences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2017, 1:21am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 June, 2017, 8:11am

One of my proudest moments as a reporter was to have uncovered malfeasance among staff at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department more than a decade ago. Okay, it wasn’t Woodward and Bernstein material, but an infuriating tale of eight hygiene inspectors who cornered a 55-year-old housewife for littering – because she accidentally dropped her house key.

Twelve years later, it seems things haven’t improved at the department. Less than a week after the department dropped a charge against a 75-year-old woman for illegally selling cardboard scraps for a grand total of HK$1, its inspectors reportedly went after a housewife, 47, this week for illegal hawking after she was caught handing sweet potato leaves to two friends in Tin Shui Wai.

Maybe she did intend to sell or maybe she was just making a gift to friends, as she has claimed. But no money was exchanged. When inspectors moved in from nowhere, an argument ensued. Sympathetic passers-by joined in to defend the woman, starting a commotion. Police with riot shields were called in, the woman was detained and had to post bail to be released.

Hong Kong government officers constantly target cardboard collectors, making their lives even harder, concern group says

I bet if I was seen handing vegetables to someone in the street outside Pacific Place in Admiralty, no anti-hawking officers would bother me. But it’s Tin Shui Wai, one of the city’s poorer districts and so any exchange in the street is suspect.

As for the elderly cardboard seller, she was clearly selling – for H$1. Still, is this crazy or what? It can’t be easy being an FEHD inspector these days. Hong Kong people are terribly assertive and don’t think twice about confronting the police, let alone FEHD officers. Sometimes they really have to stick to their guns to hand out a fine. But surely discretion is part of the game.

The FEHD is not alone in being overzealous. Workers from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department destroyed nests and probably killed more than a dozen hatchlings from a protected habitat for herons while pruning trees in Tai Po earlier this month.

The area is a known protected breeding site under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance. Imagine if someone is caught killing those birds. Department officers would have been merciless in their prosecution.

FEHD inspection is a tough and unpleasant job. But a bit more common sense and compassion would make the job actually easier.