Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

ENVIRONMENTAL HYGIENE SERVICES : AN OVERVIEW

PURPOSE

This paper gives an overview of the environmental hygiene services provided by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (the Department).

BACKGROUND

    The Department came into being on 1 January 2000 and assumed responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene. Our vision is to work hand in hand with our community in building Hong Kong into a world-class metropolis renowned for its food safety and public hygiene for the people of Hong Kong. A booklet on the organisation of the Department and its services is at Appendix I (The booklet is available at the ACFEH Secretariat).

ENVIRONMENTAL HYGIENE SERVICES AND FACILITIES

  1. It is our mission to provide and maintain a clean and hygienic living environment for the people of Hong Kong. To organise and deliver efficient environmental hygiene services of high standards in such a densely populated and congested area is a mammoth task. Prior to the setting up of the Department, the provision and delivery of these services and management of facilities were the responsibilities of the two Municipal Councils and executed by their respective executive departments, namely Urban Services Department and Regional Services Department. Owing to historical and other reasons, different policies, practices, service standards, fees and charges and market rental setting and adjustment mechanism etc had been adopted by the two Municipal Councils over the years. Some of the differences are substantial and the gaps between them wide. To illustrate, there are some 90 kinds of fees and charges; different market rental and tenancy policies; different policies on succession rights of licensed hawkers; and different policies and level of compensations for the surrender of hawking licences. As changes to the present systems may have great impact on those affected and on the community as a whole, we believe we should take a systematic and gradual approach to bridge or align the two systems.

  2. To ensure provision of satisfactory services of high standards throughout the territory, we have to align service standards, procedures and practices of the daily operational matters on the one hand and to promote a new work and service culture on the other. Environmental hygiene work embraces all facets of daily city life. It can be broadly classified into four main areas. They include (a) regulation and control of restaurants and food-related businesses through licensing for both environmental hygiene and food safety purposes; (b) provision of public cleansing services; (c) provision and management of environmental hygiene facilities ranging from public markets to crematoria; and (d) control of street trading activities.

  3. A summary of our environmental hygiene services and facilities is at Appendix II. Our work in the key areas are highlighted in paragraphs 6 to 16 -

(I) Licensing and Control of Food Business

  1. We license food businesses to safeguard public health and safety. As the Licensing Authority, we coordinate advice and requirements of Fire Services and Buildings Departments in the licensing process. We conduct regular inspections to ensure hygiene standards of licensed food premises are met and take law enforcement actions such as prosecutions, summary arrests, imposition of court orders, daily fines and suspension or cancellation of licences against unlicensed and unhygienic premises.

  2. The licensing systems for different food-related business have evolved over the years in response to changing circumstances. However, we recognize that there are still areas in the existing licensing and inspection regime which can be improved to better meet the trade and community expectations. The present licensing procedures are criticised as cumbersome, complicated and not business-friendly. The existing inspection and demerit point systems tend to focus more on environmental hygiene and law enforcement aspects, while food safety and health educational issues have not been given enough and due significance. In addition, tackling the problem of unlicensed food premises by way of summons has proved to be inefficient and to some extent ineffective. The Open Categorisation Scheme (commonly known as 5-star grading system) introduced by the two Municipal Councils in November 1999 as a pilot scheme for restaurants and food factories supplying lunch boxes to schools, has also been subject to severe criticisms.

  3. In order to promote food safety and hygiene practices in food business and to put in place a compatible, transparent and efficient licensing and inspection/categorisation system, we have embarked on a number of new initiatives as follow:

     (a)We have streamlined the licensing procedures and shortened the processing time for restaurant licences. To help the small and medium size operators, we have set up a resource centre to assist them in their licence applications. We are also planning to simplify the licensing procedures for various types of food business licences;
     (b)We have commenced a comprehensive study to review the present inspection system and the Open Categorisation Scheme. Promotion of the application of HACCP principles and the implementation of the hygiene manager scheme will also be included; and
     (c)In order to minimise the risk to public health, we are in the process of formulating legislative amendment proposals to provide for a speedy and effective mechanism to close unlicensed food business premises. Further, to tackle food incidents which may pose an immediate threat to public health, we will examine the need to empower the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene to seek immediate closure of such food premises.

We will consult Members on the above policy and legislative proposals before the end of this year.

(II) Delivery of direct public cleansing services

  1. We are committed to keep public places clean, tidy and free of litter. Direct public cleansing services range from street sweeping and washing, collection of household waste and on-street litter, gully emptying, desludging, to providing toilets for public convenience.

  2. These services are provided by our 7,000 cleansing staff or private contractors we engage and whose service standard we closely supervise. At present, about one third of the street cleansing service has been contracted out. Contracting out has proved to be cost-effective and more efficient in terms of service and staff deployment. Subject to satisfactory deployment of affected civil service staff, we will continue to roll out contracting programmes for other cleansing services.

  3. Despite the strenuous efforts made by our cleansing staff and contractors, some public areas and toilets are still perceived or found to be dirty. Many reasons are at play and lack of consideration of some citizens and poor personal hygiene habits should not be ignored. To bring about visible improvement to general cleanliness in public places, we have set clear, measurable and objective service standards and adopted an accountable performance management system. We welcome public monitoring and encourage prompt reporting of irregularities through our complaint hotline which we widely publicize.

  4. Our efforts to upkeep the service standards alone is not enough. The community and the individual have a part to play to keep Hong Kong clean. To achieve this, education and enforcement have to be stepped up. We are considering a fixed penalty system against litter offenders and are formulating a comprehensive and sustainable public education programme aiming at bringing about fundamental change to people's habits and enhancing civic responsibilities.

(III) Control of Street Trading Activities

  1. On-street hawking is an accepted social and economical activity and one of Hong Kong's way of life despite the many attendant problems that may result. In the past, the Municipal Councils had built public markets to resite on-street hawkers; designated hawker permitted places and bazaars; stopped issuing new hawker licences since 1970s; and promulgated policies to restrict succession rights. These measures, coupled with strict enforcement actions, have succeeded in containing the hawking problem to a great extent. The number of licensed hawkers has reduced from about 49,000 in 1971 to 9,410 as of present.

  2. Hawking is however a very complex problem which is almost impossible to eradicate. Our enforcement actions are often met with resistance especially from illegal hawkers who play to gain media and public sympathy. Effectiveness of our efforts is hard to measure and quantify. In response to the public concern about the operation, quality and productivity of our hawker control staff, we will conduct a comprehensive review on the modus operandi of the hawker control operations, the structure, establishment and human resource management of one Hawker Control staff. We aim to complete the review in end 2000.

(IV) Provision and Management of Public Markets

  1. We now manage 81 public markets and 25 free standing cook-food centres which had been mainly built for resiting on-street hawkers. Most of our markets were built some 15-20 years ago. Their facilities and standards are clearly inadequate by today's standards. These markets now face strong competitions from superstores. With the changing shopping habits, the need for the provision of traditional markets and how the existing markets should be managed warrant re-examination. In the meantime, we are examining with stall operators through the Market Management Consultative Committees ways and means to better manage the markets and to promote their viability e.g. tidying the stalls to make way for wider passage-ways for market-goers and keeping the markets clean.

  2. The delivery of all our services requires the participation and support of the community. To this end, we have approached all District Councils and enlisted their co-operation to advise and monitor our performance at the district level. We also attend regular meetings of the Legislative Council Environmental Affairs Sub-committee to account for our services in particular the performance pledges which we have made.

ADVICE SOUGHT

  1. Members are invited to note the contents of this paper and offer views and comments on the Department's new initiatives set out above.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
June 2000

 

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