Top government officials whose bureaus and departments were involved in the excessive lead in drinking water scandal have apologised, after a report by an independent commission was released on Tuesday. However, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor did not follow suit, instead stating that flaws in the government system did not necessarily require individual officials to take personal responsibility
The Commission of Inquiry report said that – during the scandal – stakeholders transferred the duty of supervision to others. It blamed a “collective failure on the part of all stakeholders” after excessive lead was found in drinking water at 11 public housing estates last year.
Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po, Chairman of the Housing Authority and Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, Director of Water Supplies Enoch Lam Tin-sing and Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong apologised for the incident at a press conference on Wednesday, shortly after a redacted version of the report came out.
Paul Chan said that his bureau will accept the criticism and suggestions from the commission related to the Water Supplies Department – its subordinate.
“I sincerely apologise for the inadequacy in laws, regulations and water quality monitoring, and the inconvenience and health concerns caused by the incident related to the daily lives of public housing estate residents,” he said.
He said a special committee will be formed to push the Water Supplies Department to implement the suggestions, and another five-member international and local expert committee will be formed on Wednesday to examine water quality and testing standards.
Enoch Lam said his department will accept the criticism that current laws were outdated and needed to be amended.
“As the chief of the department, I express sincere apologies on behalf of the Water Supplies Department regarding the inadequate laws and the inconvenience for residents caused by the incident,” he said.
He added that the department has learned its lesson and will look at the World Health Organisation standards and the experience of foreign countries to establish new water safety standards.
Anthony Cheung said his bureau underestimated the seriousness of the problem and that it was systemic failure which had existed for years.
“I feel deep regret as the chairman of the housing authority for the inadequate performance regarding the risks of lead in drinking water, and express apologies to the public and residents again,” he said.
Director of Housing Stanley Ying said the flaws in his department were the responsibility of its own staff members. He said he would improve the quality of management, such as adding regulations in construction contracts to examine levels of metals.
“As the director of housing, I express apologies on behalf of our colleagues to the public and residents,” he said.
No explicit apology
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam did not apologise but said departments should take responsibility.
“Even though the commission’s hearings reflected an inadequate awareness by government departments and flaws in the monitoring system, it did not necessarily equate to particular officials not following laws or neglecting duties – because of that, they do not have to bear personal responsibility,” she said.
She added that the new mission of the departments will be to review and improve legislation and systems, that she – along with the heads of departments and bureaus – will supervise subordinate departments to make improvements.
She also said that construction companies may be pursued according to contracts and plumbers that broke regulations have been delicensed. The Department of Justice may launch prosecutions if adequate evidence was found for criminal liability, Lam said.