LCQ19: Unlawful taking of waterFollowing is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 27):
It has been reported that last year, some members of the public reported to the Water Supplies Department (WSD) that the management company of a private housing estate in the New Territories had been diverting fresh water to flush toilets without authorization since early last year. The company was eventually convicted of violating the Waterworks Ordinance (Cap. 102). A member of the public working in that housing estate has complained to me that for as long as 10 years, the management company has in fact taken water which had not passed through the meter, and this practice is very common in the trade as it can save water charges, which causes financial losses to the Government, and may even affect the water quality in the fresh water tank and cause detriment to the health of the residents as the pump used for pumping water for toilet flushing is placed in the tank for extended periods of time; and the owners' committee concerned has all along been kept in the dark. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the number of complaints received by WSD concerning unlawful taking of water in private housing estates/buildings in the past five years; among them, the respective number of cases in which the people involved were prosecuted and convicted;
(b) whether regular inspections of the water supply systems in private housing estates/buildings were conducted by WSD in the past five years for the prevention of the aforesaid unlawful acts; if so, of the number of inspections conducted;
(c) whether it has assessed if WSD has sufficient statutory powers to inspect, regulate and prosecute the aforesaid unlawful acts in private housing estates/buildings; if such an assessment has been made, of the results; and
(d) whether, upon receipt of complaints about the aforesaid unlawful acts, WSD will, regardless of whether evidence can be successfully obtained, notify the owners' committees or owners' corporations of the housing estates concerned for follow-up actions, so as to avoid causing detriment to the health of the residents; if it will, of the total number of notifications issued in the past five years?
The Water Supplies Department (WSD) has always been deeply concerned about the problem of illegal water tapping and has strived to curb such behaviour through on-going publicity and education initiatives. The maximum fine for unlawful taking of water was revised in 2006 for deterrent effect. WSD also looks out for signs of illegal water tapping in its daily operations. Upon discovery of illegal water tapping and with sufficient evidence in hand, the Department will initiate prosecution under the law.
My reply to the four points raised by Hon Leung Kwok-hung is as follows:
(a) WSD has received a total of 61 complaints about illegal diversion of drinking water for toilet flushing in private housing estates/buildings over the past five years. Prosecutions were initiated in 26 cases with successful convictions in all the cases.
(b) WSD staff conduct inspections on various water supply issues, including water pipe leakage, weak water pressure, water quality and customers' complaints. In the course of inspection, the field staff will also check for signs of illegal water tapping. If any irregularity or sign of irregularity is found, the Department will probe into the case.
WSD staff conduct about 30,000 inspections on water supply issues in private housing estates/buildings per year.
(c) Under the Waterworks Ordinance (the Ordinance), a registered consumer and his agent are responsible for the custody and maintenance of an inside service or a fire service of his premises. Anyone who takes water unlawfully without permission from the Water Authority commits an offence and is liable to prosecution by WSD under the Ordinance.
The Ordinance empowers the Water Authority to enter a private premises to inspect waterworks and, where necessary, require the consumer concerned to repair the inside service on his premises properly or suspend water supply to the consumer concerned. In addition, the Government raised substantially the maximum fine for unlawful taking of water from $5,000 to $25,000 in 2006 for deterrent effect.
(d) Upon receiving a complaint about the illegal practice mentioned above, WSD will investigate the case. For any case that involves irregularity, the Department will, upon the conclusion of its investigation, inform in writing the owners' committee, owners' corporation or management company of the housing estate concerned about the irregularity and take follow-up action. Among the 61 complaints (see Note 1) mentioned in para (a), 46 cases (see Note 1) involved irregularities. WSD has advised or urged in writing all the persons concerned to carry out improvement work.
Note 1: The remaining 15 complaints include (i) 2 cases under investigation; (ii) 6 cases in which the complaints could not be substantiated; and (iii) 7 cases that involved minor defects which were rectified in the course of investigation.
Ends/Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:40