Speech – Building a safe city (Lo Wai-kwok)

President, as some urban facilities in the territory have been ageing, and certain ordinances and measures relating to safety regulation have failed to make amendments to keep up with the times, many hidden safety hazards have arisen, and various kinds of accidents may occur, resulted in property loss and even heavy casualties. All these have tarnished Hong Kong’s reputation as a safe city. For example, in recent years, the public are widely concerned about lift safety. In 2008, a lift plunged to the ground Fu Shin Estate, Tai Po. After this incident, the authorities had immediately reviewed the relevant legislation and stepped up inspection by raising the ratio of spot checks from 1 in 10 to 1 in 7. But with the occurrence of another incident in North Point in March this year as a lift plunged to the ground due to the snapping of suspension cables, the public have become even more concerned about lift safety.

The Lifts and Escalators Ordinance, which came into operation at the end of last year, clearly specifies the responsibility of different stakeholders. However, notwithstanding the enactment of the relevant legislation, how can the new legislation be effectively implemented is another matter of concern. When I previously put a question to the Secretary for Development in this Council, I expressed my concern on three areas as follows. First, I hope discussions can be held by the authorities with the industry as well as the professional bodies so that concrete complementary measures can be adopted to encourage practitioners in the trade to pursue continuing education to meet the professional qualifications as well as the registration and registration renewal requirements. Second, I urge the authorities to assist the trade in dealing with deep-rooted problems in the industry, such as the award of maintenance contracts to the lowest bidder, and quality assurance of the industry, as well as striving to attract new blood to join the trade. Third, the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department needs to deploy additional manpower in order to step up inspections and monitoring so that the public will be assured of safety when using lifts and escalators.

President, with so many high-rise buildings in Hong Kong, fire safety is another safety concern of life-and-death importance. In April this year, a No. 4 alarm fire ― a rare occurrence in recent years ― broke out in a high-rise housing estate in Ap Lei Chau, causing injuries to many persons. This has sounded an alarm about the potential fire hazards in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong. As many middle-class families are living in the housing estate where the fire broke out, the facilities of the said housing estate as well as its property management services should have been much better than many old buildings. However, it turned out that the fire hydrants had malfunctioned during the fire. The authorities should investigate the causes thoroughly.

As taller and taller residential buildings are built in Hong Kong, the authorities cannot solely rely on turntable ladders in putting out fire. With the increasingly important role in fire-fighting played by fire service systems inside the buildings, the authorities should comprehensively review the existing rules and regulations concerning the inspection of fire service systems and equipment inside the buildings, so as to strengthen monitoring and ensure the proper functioning of fire service systems or equipment at all times. Meanwhile, as the Fire Services Department has already conducted two rounds of public consultation on the proposal for a new registration system of registered fire engineers, so as to introduce the Third Party Fire Safety Certification Registered Fire Engineer Scheme, the authorities should, based on the outcome of the consultation, expeditiously amend the policies to implement the Scheme, so as to promote the participation and co-operation of the industry.

In recent years, there have been frequent incidents of gas explosion in telecommunications manholes. In this connection, the authorities published the Implementation Guidelines on Mitigating the Risk of Gas Explosion in Telecommunications Manholes in 2010, which is voluntary in nature. The Guidelines comprises three measures, namely installing vent holes in manhole covers, sealing up the ducts leading into manholes and surrounding the ducts leading into manholes with concrete. However, as reflected by the industry, such measures have not been implemented across the board. As I see it, the authorities should proactively consider, by making reference to the national standards such as “GB50373 ― Design Code for Communication Conduit and Passage Engineering”, requiring members of the telecommunications industry to seal the connecting ducts in the telecommunications manholes, so as to prevent incidents of gas explosions in manholes.

President, apart from tangible hidden safety hazards, Hong Kong must also face other intangible hidden safety hazards. In recent years, the frequent occurrence of regional cyber security incidents has posed a new threat to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a free and open international city where the daily operation of various trades and industries invariably relies on computer systems and the Internet. Moreover, Internet transactions as well as services like mobile banking have become increasingly popular. There will be dire consequences if such systems are under malicious attacks. In August 2011, the HKExnews Website of the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited was hacked, incurring loss on the part of some investors as their transactions were not timely executed. Lately, according to the information disclosed to the media by Edward SNOWDEN, a former technical worker of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, the United States authorities have been hacking into the computer systems in Hong Kong since 2009 and have acquired huge quantity of information. Obviously, a red alert on cyber security in Hong Kong has already been raised. The authorities should expeditiously formulate comprehensive and holistic countermeasures in respect of legislative amendments, institutional framework, allocation of resources, and so on.

President, city safety involves many aspects, including law and order, people’s trust on the judicial system and law-enforcement agencies, prevention of diseases, occupational safety and health, food safety, various tangible safety aspects in communal facilities, as well as the intangible aspect of cyber safety. In my view, these areas are wide and extensive. Hence, the SAR Government should seriously consider setting up an inter-departmental steering committee on city safety with three major responsibilities, firstly, to formulate a forward-looking safe city development policy to avoid dealing with problems on an ad hoc basis; secondly, to comprehensively review the various existing ordinances relating to city safety, and urge the various departments to improve the implementation of such ordinances; thirdly, to allocate resources for the promotion of a city safety culture so as to make more citizens aware of the importance of city safety.

In the spirit of “Hong Kong: Our Home”, I firmly believe that we are all willing to work together and build Hong Kong into a safer city. President, I so submit.


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