LCQ9: Handling of Water Seepage Complaints

Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (October 22):


The Office of The Ombudsman released a report in March this year, which made recommendations in respect of the dedicated Joint Office (“JO”) set up by the Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department to handle complaints about water seepage in buildings.  It was mentioned in the report that the Administration “has already introduced certain improvement measures to procedures concerning operational timelines, entry to suspected premises and management and monitoring of consultants”.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the details of the above improvement measures, and whether there has been any improvement in the handling of water seepage complaints since the introduction of such measures (including whether the time required for conducting investigations has been shortened and the percentage of successful cases of identifying the source of water seepage has increased, etc.); if so, of the details;

(b) given that the Government has repeatedly indicated that the review on the operation of JO would be completed in mid-2008, whether the review has been completed, and when the outcome is expected to be made public; if the review has been completed, whether the review report has recommended the implementation of improvement measures; if so, of the details; and

(c) given that The Ombudsman had urged the Government in the above report to give priority consideration to the proposal of setting up a Building Affairs Tribunal, and the Government has also indicated that it would follow up the matter, of its progress in considering the proposal?



As pointed out in the Ombudsman’s “Direct Investigation Report on Handling of Water Seepage Complaints” released earlier this year, water seepage in private premises is primarily a matter of building management and maintenance for property owners.  However, if it causes public health nuisance, building safety risks or wastage of water, the Government has a statutory responsibility to consider its involvement by exercising the relevant statutory powers.  Based on this philosophy, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (“FEHD”) and the Buildings Department (“BD”) established a Joint Office (“JO”) in 2006 to assist members of the public to resolve some of the water seepage problems.  Regarding the three parts of the questions, our replies are as follows:

(a) & (b) Since the JO service was extended to cover the whole territory as a pilot scheme in 2006, we have been striving to improve the operation of the Office.  We have completed an interim review of this three-year pilot scheme.  Based on the results of the interim review and the recommendations in the Ombudsman’s Report, the JO has gradually implemented various improvement measures, including issuing clearer internal guidelines for investigation, establishing milestones to monitor the progress of various stages of investigation, issuing clearer internal circulars for deciding whether to exercise power of entry under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, enhancing information processing and communications within the various units of the JO, etc.  The JO has also issued clearer guidelines and performance milestones to the consultants it hired and standardised the format of documents.  It will also formulate criteria and guidelines for the Office to take over from consultants the investigation of cases with serious delay.  We hope these measures will further enhance the efficiency of the JO, and will examine further improvement measures with experience gained.

Another major focus of the interim review is the clarification of the JO’s authority under the relevant legislation being administered by the three departments concerned, namely the FEHD, the BD, and the Water Supplies Department.  We have to point out that a number of water seepage cases do not involve public health nuisance, building safety risks or wastage of water such that the Government has no statutory power to handle.  Such cases include seepage of rain water as well as leaking water pipes which do not cause any noticeable water wastage.  These are building management problems that individual owners should be responsible for.  In the future publicity actions, the JO will clarify the role and terms of reference of the Office, introduce the implementation of the new measures and stress the importance of proper building management in tackling water seepage problems to the public.

The implementation of the JO scheme has increased the percentage of success in identifying the source of water seepage, from 14% in 2004 to 44% in 2008 (up to July).  The JO has also been striving to shorten the time required for investigations and enhance the efficiency for handling cases.  The JO has recently been gradually implementing the aforementioned improvement measures.  We expect that the efficiency of operations of the JO will be improved.  The combined effects of the measures can yet be assessed, as some measures have only been implemented recently and various measures came into operation at various times.  Nevertheless, the JO will continue to monitor the investigation works and the effect of the aforementioned measures on the success rate of and time for investigation.

(c) The Administration has been examining the proposal of establishing a Building Affairs Tribunal and making reference to the different comments from various stakeholders.  During the earlier public consultation on mandatory building inspection, there were concerns over the duplication of work with the existing mechanism if a separate dispute resolution mechanism is established.  Barring legal representation in the Tribunal may also involve constitutional and human right implications.  The Administration will carefully take into account these comments when considering the way forward.

Ends/Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Issued at HKT 14:31