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Wednesday, November 23, 2016, 22:13

Audit watchdog says fire services wasting money


Audit watchdog says fire services wasting money
Fire-fighting equipment are on display at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Jan 29, 2016. (Parker Zheng/China Daily)

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's audit watchdog slammed the Fire Services Department (FSD) for wasting at least HK$95.3 million on the purchase of fire-fighting equipment, while wasting time and money on other things.

Losses in the purchases resulted from FSD's unilateral termination of purchase contracts and delay of purchase procedures, the Audit Commission's annual audit report found.

The audit watchdog slammed the Fire Services Department for wasting at least HK$95m on the purchase of fire-fighting equipment

In a purchase deal, at least HK$66 million in prepayments was wasted on the suspension of five contracts by FSD while purchasing 37 fire engines between 2011 and 2012, according to the report.

Time was also wasted after the fire engines the FSD purchased in new contracts began operating between 2014 and 2016. This was some four years after the original target dates, the report noted.

The report also criticized the FSD for delaying a deal for the replacement of one fireboat and two speedboats by three to four years. In this deal, the delay increased the financial burden by at least HK$29.3 million, the commission estimated.

According to the report, the replacement of a fireboat in use for over 20 years was deferred for more than four years until 2019. Two speedboats will be replaced in 2018, over three years later than originally planned.

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Receiving the reports, the FSD pledged to review its practices. It also blamed the Marine Department for its inexperience in helping make these purchases.

Meanwhile, the report also discovered overcharging of service extensions of the current mobilizing system for fire-fighting.

According to previous government documents, the FSD planned to prolong the current third-generation mobilizing system from 10 years to 15 years. That will cost some HK$58.5 million for extending the service every year, 7.4 percent higher than the current fee.

The commission suggested contracting the service out through competitive bidding to avoid future overcharging.

The maintenance service of the mobilizing system was also found to be too slack. The report revealed that some 43 percent of 985 system incidents were responded to after a period longer than the target time of two hours. The repair time for 30 percent of 814 breakdown cases exceeded the time by six hours.

The FSD was also blamed for the late installation of 25 new ambulances and 14 new fire appliances by some seven months. This could have affected the ability of staff to fight fires.

The commission also argued the need to set a target time for answering emergency calls. According to the latest statistics, in the past year, the waiting time of 288,002 emergency calls, 33 percent of a total of 864,426, were 10 seconds or more. Some 3 percent of calls were picked up after more than one minute.

The commission also said it needed to be able to identify the location of mobile phones. The need for this is significant as the percentage of emergency calls made by mobile phones increased from 30 percent to 44 percent in the past 15 years, according to the report.

The FSD vowed to shorten the response time for maintenance work, to review the bidding mechanism and enhance emergency call services.

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