The government was criticised on Friday for failing to take minutes during seven inter-departmental meetings held in response to the lead water scandal that arose two years ago.

The scandal sparked safety concerns after excess lead was discovered in drinking water at 11 public housing estates. A report released last May by the Commission of Inquiry blamed a “collective failure on the part of all stakeholders to guard against the use of non-compliant solder in the plumbing system.”

lead water
File photos: Apple Daily.

The government subsequently held a series of interdepartmental meetings, but the first seven meetings did not produce any written records.

During Friday’s public hearing of the legislature’s Public Accounts Committee, Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting challenged government officials over the lack of records.

Slamming the officials for failing to perform the “most basic task” when holding a meeting, Lam asked: “Is the government trying to cover up something?” The lawmaker also questioned why the government only gave lawmakers a selection of records of exchanges among departments.

‘Forgot to take notes’

Acting Director of Water Supplies Wong Chung-leung said the working group decided not to record the first seven meetings because of time constraints, as the meetings were held within a timeframe of a dozen days.

Wong Chung-leung
Wong Chung-leung. File Photo: GovHK.

“We also agreed that the lack of public records was not ideal, which is why we decided to begin taking minutes from the eighth meeting onwards,” Wong said, adding that he could provide documents of communication between his and other departments within two weeks.

See also: Lead in water scandal a ‘classic case of buck-passing’, says inquiry

Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong, who chaired the meetings, said: “It is not that we deliberately decided not to take minutes, but that we were so into the work that we forgot to take notes.”

He added that he personally did not regard note-taking at those meetings as top of his priority issues, on the grounds that the government “could not wait” for meeting minutes to act.

Stanley Ying Yiu-hong
Stanley Ying Yiu-hong. File Photo: GovHK.

Ying said he decided at the eighth meeting that his team should begin taking notes, as not everything discussed required immediate action. He added that there is no requirement for civil servants to record every meeting they hold.

Last May, the Commission of Inquiry, consisting of Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai and former corruption watchdog commissioner Alan Lai Nin, criticised stakeholders – including the Water Supplies Department and the Housing Authority – for transferring their duty of supervision to one another.

They also slammed the Water Supplies Department for failing to uphold a robust licensed plumber regime.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.