Lid lifted on foul public toilet woes

Top News | Erin Chan 14 May 2021

Each of the city's more than 800 public toilets has been refurbished only once every 17 years, the Office of the Ombudsman said, as it criticized the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department's inadequate monitoring of toilet management.

Only 48 of the 808 were renovated each year, the watchdog said.

The Ombudsman criticized the department for not having a grasp of public toilets' use rate to determine how many of them should be refurbished.

"Concerning the calculation of public toilet utilization rates, the FEHD did not have a consistent counting method in the past," Ombudsman Winnie Chiu Wai-yin said in her report yesterday. "It had conducted only one comprehensive visitor counting exercise for 795 public toilets in 2019."

The office said the extent of cleaning services to be deployed to public toilets had also been affected by the failure to keep tabs on rate of use.

It found the department's definition of "high-utilization public toilets" - those with 300 visitors or more a day - questionable.

Among the 248 high-utilization public toilets, 41 percent - or 101- registered 1,000 visitors or more a day, while 6 percent - or 15- saw 3,000 visitors or more a day.

"We consider it unreasonable for the FEHD to have treated all the 248 high-utilization public toilets with visitors ranging from 300 to 3,000 or more a day in the same way," Chiu said.

It deemed the public toilet management overseen by the department as unsatisfactory.

"There are no objective indicators on the "proper" or "satisfactory" level of performance for cleansing workers or foremen, she said.

Between January and September last year, no cleansing workers with 198 directly managed toilets had attended disciplinary hearings or been punished due to unsatisfactory cleansing services, the watchdog said.

"Complaint data, on the other hand, reveal that around 8 to 12 percent of complaint cases every year involving issues such as public toilet cleanliness and repairs were related to directly managed toilets," it said. Of the 198 directly managed toilets, five had not deployed any attendants there, the office added.

The ombudsman said there was inadequate punishment when contractors severely delayed toilet repairs.

In one case, it said a contractor needed to pay only HK$54 in damages for a 125-day delay in carrying out a work order.

In another case, another contractor paid just HK$2 for a 16-day delay.

"We are of the view that delay in work completion would cause partial closure of public toilet facilities and bring inconvenience to users," Chiu said.

The Ombudsman suggested the FEHD collect statistics such as visitor counts and utilization rates of each public toilet so that their refurbishment and management could be improved.

It called on the department to draw up specific performance indicators for directly managed toilets for cleansing workers' reference.

"The department should consider deploying toilet attendants to high-utilization directly managed toilets so that their cleanliness level can be maintained," the Ombudsman said.

The Ombudsman also asked the Architectural Services Department to raise penalties for contractors who delay toilet repairs.

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