Thanks to the “not in my backyard” mindset among some civil servants, it is not uncommon to see issues of public concern being passed around or falling through the cracks of departments. But even when something is clearly in one’s turf, it may still go woefully wrong. The management of trees in Hong Kong is a case in point. Yet another bureaucracy overhaul has been made by the government to ensure the relevant departments will take their responsibilities seriously. The sorry state of affairs says something about the deep-rooted culture across officialdom. The review, which came after a series of mishaps that saw a man killed by a falling tree last year, concluded that the departments “had performed well according to the guidelines”. But it also identified “room for improvement” in relation to issues such as the lack of follow-up on inspection results and inconsistencies between observations and risk ratings. The rhetoric is typical of the government and does little to help people judge whether the existing tree management regime has been working well. Among the 10 recommendations by the Development Bureau’s task force is to make tree management performance a factor in appraising the work of nine department heads with a tree portfolio. While it may be a more forceful way to raise awareness and accountability, we hope it does not mean top officials would only discharge their responsibilities seriously when their work directly affects their performance appraisal. Under the proposals, the number of trees to be inspected will surge from the original target of 9,000 to 45,000. But in question is not just quantity, but also quality. The areas of improvement identified by the task force show inspection work has not been carried out as seriously as it should. Even when more trees are to be examined, it means little if they are not done professionally. The existing management structure that straddles across different bureaus and departments was put in place more than a decade ago, after an old tree collapsed and killed a student in Stanley. The last thing we need are more accidents and reviews to prompt officials to do their job properly.