The Ombudsman announces direct investigation reports on “HAD’s management on booking and use of facilities of community halls andcentres” and “Problems relating to enforcement of Fire Safety Ordinance”
23 March 2016
The Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, announced today (March 23) the completion of two direct investigations respectively into:
- how the Home Affairs Department (“HAD”) manages the booking and use of facilities of community halls and community centres (“Facilities”) (“Investigation 1”); and
- whether the Fire Services Department (“FSD”) and the Buildings Department (“BD”) have provided due support to owners of old buildings to facilitate their smooth compliance with the Fire Safety Directions (“FS Directions”) issued under the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (“Investigation 2”)
2. HAD currently operates a Penalty System for breach of the terms and conditions of use of Facilities. The investigation has revealed a loophole in the Penalty System. The Penalty System is operated on a district basis, which means that hirers who have accumulated enough demerit points for breach of the terms and conditions of use of the Facilities in one district can evade the penalty of temporary prohibition from booking Facilities by switching to booking Facilities in another district. In the event of such cross-district booking of Facilities, the Penalty System is practically rendered useless. The Ombudsman urges HAD to explore the feasibility of setting up a central database for recording demerit points in order to plug the loophole.
3. The investigation has also found that a District Office of HAD allows priority booking of Facilities by two non-governmental organisations. The Ombudsman is of the view that HAD should consider abolishing that practice since it may cause public perception that some organisations are favoured by the Government. Alternatively, if HAD thinks that the practice is beneficial to the development of culture and/or sports in the district and merits retention, the Department should, for the sake of fairness and impartiality, consider regularising the practice by formulating clear criteria applicable to all districts.
4. Under the current legislation, building owners have to comply with FS Directions to enhance the fire safety measures of their buildings for conforming to contemporary fire safety standards. Our investigation has shown that FSD and BD have, by and large, made appropriate arrangements and devised suitable and effective measures for providing technical support and financial assistance to those owners, as well as in helping with coordination. Nonetheless, we find that BD has delayed enforcement action against unauthorised building works (“UBW”) items in some buildings. In one case, the delay was as long as one and a half years. As a result, the building owners were hindered from complying with the FS Directions (e.g. the owners were unable to install a hose reel and a fire hydrant because of BD’s delay in taking enforcement action against an illegally constructed shop on the ground floor of the building). The Ombudsman urges BD to monitor more closely cases involving obstruction of fire safety improvement works by UBW items in buildings and to take proper action without delay.
5. Furthermore, many owners of old buildings who are required to carry out fire safety improvement works in their buildings are elderly people or residents of “Three Nils” buildings. In this connection, The Ombudsman urges FSD to step up publicity on the Government’s financial assistance for elderly owners, and to further strengthen its communication with District Councils so that more appropriate assistance would be offered via District Council members to building owners who are required to comply with FS Directions, especially those owners of “Three Nils” buildings.
6. The reports of the above two direct investigations have been uploaded to the Office website at www.ombudsman.hk for public information.
Office of The Ombudsman
March 23, 2016