Government blames collective failure after inquiry into tainted water

originally posted on June 1, 2016


The government has admitted that an inquiry commission set up last year to look into the issue of contaminated water at public housing estates has flagged several concerns, but said there is no need to pin the blame on any particular individual.

At a news conference Tuesday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said a flawed regulatory system in various government departments led to the tainted water scare, but there is no evidence to suggest that any single official was responsible for the problem.

Blaming it on a systemic failure, Lam said she doesn’t believe that any individual should be made to resign over the scandal, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

The comments came after the Independent Commission of Inquiry that was established last July to look into the water contamination issue submitted its final report to the government on May 11.

Unveiling the panel’s findings Tuesday, Lam said the problems arose to due “collective” failure of multiple government departments, and that the report does not apportion the blame on any individual.

The government accepts the inquiry panel’s criticism, Lam said, stressing that the right approach is to look at the recommendations and fix the systemic defects that have been revealed.

Lam did not respond to a reporter who asked why the top government official did not bother to apologize to the public openly for the tainted water scandal, even though some of her colleagues –transport and housing secretary Anthony Cheung, development secretary Paul Chan, water supplies director Enoch Lam and housing director Stanley Ying — did so at the press conference.

The water contamination scandal came to light following revelations by Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong on July 5 last year.

Tests showed lead-tainted drinking water in a total of 11 public housing estates where tens of thousands of families reside.

Urging the government to review the laws and rules on water safety and quality, the Independent Commission of Inquiry said in a 266-page report that all related government departments are responsible for the scandal.

It singled out the Water Supplies Department (WSD) as the one that should take the most responsibility. The department’s testing process of water samples is problematic, resulting in failure to confirm the range and level of seriousness of lead-tainted water, the panel said.

As for the Housing Department, the report blamed it for failing to establish a system that can effectively prevent use of lead solder in water pipelines.

Without asking any official to step down, the commission made 17 suggestions, including re-launching tests on drinking water in all public housing estates as well as establishing an independent team to monitor the performance of WSD as well as drinking water quality.

The police said on Tuesday that they have received the commission’s report and that the commercial crime bureau will look into the issue.

Meanwhile, China State Construction Engineering (Hong Kong), which was the major contractor of pipeline work at the affected public housing estates, said in a statement Tuesday that it respects the conclusions of the inquiry commission and that it will work closely with the government to follow up on the suggestions.

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