Former Macau weather chief made decisions on storm warnings from comfort of home, post-Typhoon Hato probe reveals

Former observatory head Fong Soi-kun, who resigned amid complaints over handling of deadly storm, directed staff over phone and internet during holidays and non-office hours

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:35am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 8:34pm

Macau’s meteorological bureau had been relying on the personal judgment and decisions by its recently resigned chief for storm forecasts and warning signals, an investigation concluded after the deadly super typhoon Hato wreaked havoc in the city in August.

The probe by the city’s Commission Against Corruption into the weather bureau’s forecasting procedures and management also found that Fong Soi-kun, the former director of Macau’s Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau, and his deputies were making decisions at home and remotely instructing the staff in the office over the telephone and internet when the bureau was considering whether a storm warning No 3 or No 8 – the second and third levels in a five-tier system – were needed during non-office hours or holidays in the past.

The investigation report released by the anti-graft body on Thursday said such practices were hugely different from those of the bureau’s counterparts in the region.

The agency said in a separate press release: “Even the personnel of the bureau were not clear about the criteria for the issuance of typhoon warning signals. As there were many problems in the bureau in terms of personnel and equipment management, [the agency] believes that the leaders of the bureau should bear major and unshirkable responsibility.”

The investigators found that the bureau did not establish a mechanism for discussions and meetings on typhoon forecasting issues, contradicting what Fong had told the city’s legislature. He had said that the bureau’s leadership, the relevant chiefs and meteorological technicians would have meetings whenever a typhoon signal was to be raised.

“Instead, it simply relied on the personal judgments and decision-making by the former director. The forecasters had no idea whether and when a warning signal was to be raised before the instructions were received from the director,” the press release said.

Typhoon, hurricane – how blind men forecast changing winds in ancient China

When Hato, the worst storm to hit the city in more than 50 years, struck on August 23, 10 people were killed and more than 200 injured, amid massive damage to the casino hub.

Fong and the bureau were criticised heavily for failing to predict Hato’s ferocity. They were also accused of issuing storm warnings too late, with some in the city speculating that the bureau may have held off raising the highest warnings because of the financial impact of closing casinos.

A day after the storm hit, Macau Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on said Fong, who had held the position since the city’s handover from Portuguese to Chinese rule in 1999, had resigned for “personal reasons”.

Chui also apologised for the government’s shortcomings in handling the crisis.

On August 28, the commission said it had launched a probe into possible irregularities in the bureau after a “large number of complaints” that raised questions about its handling of Hato.

Macau braces itself for a political storm in wake of Typhoon Hato

The anti-graft agency also revealed in August that it had previously received complaints against the bureau after the No 8 signal was not raised when Typhoon Nida hit Macau in August last year.

The agency said in the report that it had found no evidence the bureau’s forecasting for Hato and Nida had violated the relevant legislation or legal procedures.

There was also no evidence that the bureau’s decisions on issuing typhoon warning signals were subject to external factors.

The document has been submitted to Chui.

The chief executive said he attached great importance to the report and had instructed the city's secretary for transport and public works to handle the issues pointed out in it and follow-up on the recommended measures.