An investigation conducted by the Ombudsman has found the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) failed to make effective use of street cleanliness complaint data to address poor hygiene “hotspots” around the city.

Ombudsman Winnie Choi released and announced the findings of the independent probe into the effectiveness of the department’s monitoring of outsourced street cleaning services on Thursday.

Ombudsman Winnie Chiu. Photo: GovHK.

The report found that a lack of data-sharing and regulatory coordination between the city’s 19 District Environmental Hygiene Offices hampered the department’s ability to effectively monitor complaints in a systematic and cohesive manner.

“We consider that good complaint management is conducive to a department’s proper use of resources and service improvement,” the report read. It added the details of the complaints received — including locations and time stamps — should be utilised to better identify inadequacies and “persistent problems” within the current system.

The report further suggested that the data collected should be used to compile a “hotspot” list to target “service gaps” in the city’s street cleaning operations: “[The] FEHD should consider devising guidelines for follow-up actions and require contractors to enhance cleansing services at these locations.”

Photo: GovHK.

The office also found the current Demerit Point System used by the government to oversee service quality had a “limited deterrent effect.” Only one demerit point had been issued in the past two years, while no contractor between 2009 and last year had accumulated the sufficient three points to disqualify it from tendering for future contracts.

The report showed a “rising trend” of street cleanliness complaints. The department received between 56,821 to 69,423 such complaints every year from 2015 to 2019.

Pandemic considerations

The Ombudsman’s findings showed the FEHD had gradually increased the supply of face masks to contractors during the pandemic between February and May. It also found the department had taken steps to prioritise face mask distribution to frontline workers.

Earlier in the coronavirus outbreak, there were serious concerns that employers could not provide street cleaners with essential face masks due to a supply shortage.

The report added the FEHD should learn from this experience: “FEHD should… proactively intervene and provide support when the contractors have tried their best but still failed to provide their employees with due protection.”

“This can ensure that the protection of workers’ occupational health and safety, such that they can help maintain street cleansing services, keep the environment hygienic and help fight the pandemic,” the report added.

Two-year street cleaning service contracts tendered last year ranged from HKD$39.72 million to HKD$158.52 million. The FEHD has outsourced street cleaning services since 2000.

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.