Public toilets need closer inspection, says Ombudsman

The government has to do a better job managing and maintaining public toilets, Ombudsman Winnie Chiu said on Thursday, noting that complaints about the facilities weren’t even analysed until last year.

Chiu’s office said the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) only comprehensively looked at the complaints after it was advised to do so by the Audit Commission, in a value-for-money report.

“This is undesirable,” Chiu said. “It shows that perhaps they’re looking at problems at sporadic places and not taking a long term and overall view as to how to improve their system and address persistent problems.”

She said the FEHD should be looking at which toilets are getting the most flak and how frequently they draw complaints.

Chiu added that there should also be details about which facilities are dilapidated, which are not clean enough, and which toilets’ cleaners were performing poorly.

Management of most of Hong Kong’s 800 public toilets is outsourced to contractors, and those who don’t do a good enough job will be given a ‘default notice’ indicating their sub-standard performance, and have their service fee deducted.

But the Ombudsman said the department hadn’t analysed these records or kept track of which contractors had failed to live up to expectations.

Another problem identified by the watchdog was how the FEHD classified any toilet with more than 300 visitors a day as “high usage”.

The FEHD classified 250 toilets in this way, even though some of them had as many as ten times that number each day.

It’s unreasonable to treat all these toilets in the same way, Chiu said, adding that there should be better classification so resources are allocated more efficiently.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman also took issue with how the Architectural Services Department monitored the refurbishment of toilets.

The watchdog found that delays were rare, but said there should be more of a penalty to make sure that contractors finished their work on time.

In one case, a contractor was asked to pay HK$54 in compensation, for finishing four months behind schedule. Another contractor paid HK$2 for a half a month’s delay.

Chiu said these small fines were because the contractors were only worth several hundred dollars, and compensation for delays in government works projects is calculated in the same way across the board.

But she said they had discussed with the department whether other measures can also be applied to act as a stronger deterrent.