Hong Kong airport bosses told staff to lie to passengers about CCTV footage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 January, 2015, 10:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2015, 5:18pm

The Ombudsman has slammed airport bosses for telling staff to lie to passengers about its CCTV system, saying it was "totally unacceptable" for a public body to knowingly give false information to the public.

The CCTV cameras are equipped with recording equipment, but an employee told a passenger who witnessed a suspected theft that the cameras could only be monitored in real time. When the lie was exposed, the Airport Authority blamed its staff - only for the watchdog's investigation to reveal that its guidelines told employees not to tell the truth about the cameras.

The incident that sparked the watchdog's investigation took place in a baggage reclaim hall at Chek Lap Kok in March 2013. The passenger reported the suspected theft to a member of airport staff, but no action was taken.

Unhappy with the response, he wrote to the Airport Authority to ask whether the incident was caught on CCTV, but was told the cameras were used only for real-time surveillance.

However in January last year, when a lawmaker contacted the authority on the complainant's behalf, it confirmed that its CCTV cameras did have a recording function. When the complainant asked whether the employee who told him footage was not recorded was being dishonest, he was told in an email: "The staff concerned, who were not honest in this instance, have been suitably admonished"

The Ombudsman, however, discovered authority guidelines telling staff not to reveal that the cameras had a recording function for fear that the information could be used to reveal the location of cameras. The guideline was revised late in 2013, but the complainant was not informed.

"We consider it unjust to put the blame on staff when the dishonesty actually originated from the management," said Sally Chow Pui-man, a senior investigator with the Office of the Ombudsman. It was "unthinkable" for bosses to brand staff dishonest to appease a complainant.

The authority said there was room to improve, but stressed this was an isolated incident.

"[The authority] has accepted and implemented the recommendations made by the Office of the Ombudsman," a spokesman said, adding that it had hired a consultant to train staff in handling customer inquires. Training would include areas such as integrity and transparency.