Ombudsman castigates EPD over passive response to fly-tipping
The Ombudsman has castigated the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) for being too slow and reactive in dealing with fly-tipping.
It has called on the department to increase inspections and take “stronger actions” against fly-tipping in rural Hong Kong.
The Ombudsman’s report on fly-tipping, issued today, did not refer specifically to Pui O, where EPD has been passive in the face of multiple incidents of fly-tipping and landfilling.
But its findings validate many of the concerns of frustrated local residents and activists.
Some filed a complaint to the Ombudsman last month after the EPD failed to take action even though it had video evidence of landfilling without permission.
The report notes that although the Environment Bureau had instructed agencies to conduct regular inspections of fly-tipping blackspots, the EPD had carried out just two in 2017.
Though being one of the major enforcement authorities, EPD has yet to work out an action plan for such proactive inspections. EPD usually acts only on reports from the public, referrals from other departments or media reports.
The Ombudsman also noted that over a 22-month period the EPD had launched just 18 prosecutions – less than one a month.
Over 90% of EPD inspections take place during office hours, drawing complaints from members of the public because it meant fly-tippers could easily evade inspections.
EPD should have conducted more comprehensive inspections so that there would be no loopholes for offenders to evade its enforcement action.
The Ombudsman also admonished the department for the lack of progress in implementing GPS, “despite years of study.”
A trial of mandatory use of GPS in construction vehicles began in 2015 but the system still has not put it into practice.
As GPS is already a well-developed and popular technology, and the government has already spent years studying [it], … we consider that EPD, as the department enforcing [the Waste Disposal Ordinance] should make more efforts to push forward with the aforesaid legislative amendments.
It called on the EPD to expedite the introduction of the system.
The Ombudsman said EPD officials should step up inspections and enforcements outside office hours and draw up “proactive inspection plans for stronger actions against fly-tipping activities.”
The report also criticised the Planning Department for taking too long to enforce ‘Reinstatement Notices’, requiring landowners to return sites to their previous state, and said its prosecutions had little deterrent effectd.
Between 2006 and 2017, landowners had complied with the RNs in just 8% of cases.
Ombudsman called on to probe ‘criminal’ wetland dumping
Local activists have filed a complaint with the Ombudsman over the failure of the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) to prevent illegal dumping on the Pui O wetland.
A letter to the Ombudsman says the EPD had given the go-ahead for landfill on a site, despite knowing that fly-tipping, a criminal offence, had already taken place.
It says the landowner has ignored the EPD’s demands to cease, yet the department has taken no steps to prevent further destruction or to arrest the landowner, despite “evidence of a criminal offence.”
The Ombudsman complaint follows a visit to the wetland by EPD, CEDD, AFCD and Planning Department on Friday in which they were unable to explain the government’s unwillingness to use its powers to prevent landfilling “on a pristine piece of wetland habitat.”
Under questioning by local residents at the site – farcically adorned with a kitchen sink – an EPD official admitted that if he saw a truck dumping construction waste he would take no action.
Hours after the meeting, residents called police after sighting further landfilling and clearance on the site.
The owner has applied for Town Planning Board approval to have the 400 sq metre plot rezoned as agricultural land.
The plot is designated Coastal Protection Area which, despite the name, offers no protection.
In fact under Hong Kong Waste Disposal Ordinance, dumping can take if the EPD “acknowledges” it, although the Coastal Protection Area regulations specifically rule out landfilling.
In the case of this site, the dumping began before the acknowledgement was granted, which is illegal.
Additionally, the EPD’s practice in handing out acknowledgements, which have caused the degradation of other parts of the Pui O wetland, is being tested in a judicial review.
The case has been heard but the judge has not yet handed down a decision.
The Ombudsman complaint argues that the EPD erred in giving the acknowledgement when a judicial review decision is pending.
The Sustainable Lantau Blueprint, issued in June, acknowledged the Pui O wetland as a conservation priority, specifically referencing “illegal dumping activities of construction waste” in the village.
It says an inter-departmental working group had been formed to tackle fly-tipping and would “take a pro-active role to strengthen measures against illegal dumping of construction waste.”
The Living Islands Movement has written to Carrie Lam, arguing that the EPD’s role in approving landfill on a wetland “directly contradicts your stated policy intent. ”