How the government lost public trust over lead contamination

July 16, 2015 17:06
CY Leung, Anthony Cheung and Regina Ching (left photo, from bottom) have made it practically impossible for the public to trust the government over the lead contamination saga. Photo: HKEJ

It's bad enough that the government is ignoring the Kai Ching lead contamination scare but it's unconscionable when senior officials rationalize the problem.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said faulty welds on the pipes could have caused it.

And Housing Secretary Anthony Cheung quickly pointed the finger at Lam Tak-sum, the sub-contractor who installed them.

Now comes Dr. Regina Ching, head of surveillance and epidemiology in the Center for Health Protection, who is doubling down on her claim that lead-contaminated water is safe in small amounts.

Meanwhile, we have yet to hear what China State Construction, the main contractor and supplier, has to say.

Only Kai Ching residents would know what it's like to live with uncertainty over their drinking water.

The rest of us can only imagine what it must be like, but only the government can ease their fears.

But such a move is nowhere in sight.

When legislator Helen Wong sent her findings to the Water Supplies Department after her own investigation, no response came.

The problem did not come to public attention until Wong called a press conference and Lam gave a newspaper interview in which he explained his role in the pipe installation.

Does it matter that the problem was exposed by an opposition lawmaker?

Probably not, but in the poisoned political atmosphere, it's not hard to imagine a "yes" answer.

Leung's government is still smarting from the colossal defeat of the election reform bill, his signature agenda, by bloc-voting pan-democrats. 

Faced with another blow from his political enemies, his government went into damage control when the Kai Ching scare broke out.

Hopefully, that is not the case, because public health issues are not for political bickering or bargaining.

But who can stop Hong Kong people from thinking that?

Curiously enough, there's no talk of an inquiry in aid of legislation and the government is content to sit out the scare, hoping it will go away.

The problem is there is now more to it than it seems. Contamination has been found in other public housing estates.

On Tuesday, the government said water samples from Kwai Luen Estate in Kwai Chung were found to have excessive lead levels.

That is not surprising given that China State Construction reportedly supplied pipes to other public housing developments.

When Water Supplies director Enoch Lam said on Wednesday that an in-depth investigation will be made into all water supply equipment for lead content, it sounded like an afterthought.

Why make it only now?

The Kai Ching saga unfolded with revelations the government did not inspect the pipes on-site.

Yet, it concluded that the contamination could not have come from them.

Assuming it came from faulty welds in this case, which would make Lam liable, how will it explain contamination in other housing projects?

There is a serious trust deficit here, with officials doing nothing except destroy the confidence of Hong Kong people in their government.  

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EJ Insight writer