Following is a question by the Hon Tommy Cheung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Michael Wong, in the Legislative Council today (February 28):
In July 2015, several samples of drinking water taken from a number of public and private housing estates were tested and found to have a lead content exceeding the provisional guideline value set by the World Health Organization. Recently, some members of the catering industry have relayed to me that since the occurrence of the aforesaid incident, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) has put in place a number of additional testing procedures in respect of the applications for carrying out water works in restaurants. This, coupled with the time taken for the exchange of correspondence, have led to longer and longer time needed for processing new applications made by restaurants for water supply and installation of water meters. Although the authorities have indicated that they have already added staff for such processing work and refined the relevant processing procedures, the situation has not been improved so far. Such people have also pointed out that during the period when such applications are awaiting vetting and approval, the restaurants concerned may not open for business but still have to pay for rents and staff salaries. As a result, their operating risks and difficulties have greatly increased. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) in every 12 months from July 1, 2013 to June 30 last year, of:
(i) the number of new applications for water supply and installation of water meters received by the WSD from restaurants;
(ii) the average time taken for processing those applications which were approved; and
(iii) the WSD's manpower responsible for processing such applications;
(2) whether the WSD will further increase its manpower or outsource parts of the work procedures, with a view to expediting the processing of such applications; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether WSD will further refine the relevant procedures, with a view to expediting the processing of such applications; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The approval process of applications for water supply generally includes vetting of plumbing proposals and checking of the proposed pipes and fittings submitted by the applicants, as well as inspecting the completed plumbing works. Since the incidents of excess lead found in drinking water in July 2015, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) has implemented various measures to enhance water safety. These include strengthening the approval and control of plumbing materials, introducing new inspection items on completed works and enhancing water sampling test requirements. We understand that the vetting of applications for water supply now involved more procedures and the processing time is therefore lengthened. To avoid delay in the vetting process of applications for water supply, the WSD has implemented various measures, including streamlining internal workflow and deploying as well as recruiting additional manpower to handle the applications. These measures are proved to be effective. The WSD will continue to review and enhance these measures to further shorten the time needed to process applications for water supply.
My response to the three parts of the Hon Tommy Cheung's question is as follows:
(1) The number of applications from the catering industry for water supply, their average processing time and the manpower involved in handling all applications for water supply, from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2017, according to the WSD's record are tabulated as follows:
|Number of applications received from catering industry#||376||385||255||217|
|Average processing time of cases with approval of supply on completed works (calendar days)##||76||80||132||102|
|Manpower involved in handling all applications*||74||75||98||108|
# Figures represent the number of applications received in that year that have also obtained approval of supply on completed works.
## Processing time includes the time needed for the WSD to handle applications, and the time needed for the applicants to submit their revised proposals and supplementary information and also the time needed to carry out rectification of non-conforming works.
* As the applications from the catering industry are handled among other applications by the same team under the WSD, a breakdown figure of the manpower involved in handling applications from the catering industry alone is not available.
(2) As shown in the table, the WSD has deployed and recruited additional manpower to handle applications for water supply. The WSD will continue to review the manpower requirement based on the workload condition.
(3) In response to the concern raised by the catering industry regarding processing time, the WSD has implemented a pilot scheme in November last year to enhance the vetting procedures of applications submitted by the catering industry for water supply. The plumbing industry has been briefed on the pilot scheme. As of January this year, 126 applications have been received under the scheme and among which 20 have obtained approval of water supply on completed works, with an average processing time of 30 days. Preliminary results of the pilot scheme show that the processing time of applications by catering industry for water supply can be substantially shortened which is welcomed by the plumbing industry. The WSD will continue to monitor the performance of the pilot scheme. If its effectiveness could sustain, the WSD is prepared to adopt such scheme as a standing arrangement.
Ends/Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Issued at HKT 15:15