A one-man decision made at home

The latest CCAC report has exposed the many flaws of the SMG’s internal administration as well as the procedures for forecasting typhoons. The Commission stated that the former SMG head is to be held responsible for the previous incorrect decisions on hoisting typhoon signals during the hit of Typhoon Nida last year and Typhoon Hato in August

The previous decision of hoisting typhoon signals in the city was highly dependent upon decisions made by the former head of the Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau (SMG), Fong Soi Kun, without the so-called meeting that was to be held with other related heads and technicians whenever a typhoon hit the city, the latest report conducted by the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) divulged.
After nearly a month of investigation, the city’s corruption watchdog exposed the many flaws of the weather department, including the absence of a special group to handle works regarding typhoon forecasting.
‘When there is the potential for a signal 3 or 8 typhoon to land in the city, the former Director would call the Deputy Director and the head of the meteorology department to discuss whether to put up any typhoon signals, without any front-line weather forecasting staff’ during working hours, the report wrote.
When potential typhoons could hit the city during non-working hours or holidays, the former Director would examine online data and information at home and deliver his decision via phone calls.
According to the investigation, CCAC revealed that the regular ‘weather meeting’ at the department, which is usually hold at 4:00 pm every day to discuss the weather forecast for the coming week, and which the former Director would not attend, lasted only five minutes before the day Typhoon Hato hit the city without discussing the typhoon at all. Deputy Director Leong Ka Cheng informed meeting participants that the decision about Hato had already been made by the then Director.

Staff responsible for forecasting typhoons told CCAC that they were uncertain about the standards the Director would consider when making decisions.
Although Fong said he would consider the criteria of ‘extensiveness, representativeness and persistence’ when making a judgement, there were different interpretations existing among staff. For instance, the former Director would consider the extensiveness of the city affected by strong winds, whereas the Deputy Director would base his decision on the results of monitoring stations set on the bridges
‘Standards to consider when to hoist typhoon signals should not be confined to the use of the Director and they should not be ‘secretive’ or ‘hidden, slammed the corruption watchdog. ‘If weather forecast staff are uncertain [about the details], it would be even [more] impossible for the public to know.’
Zero consultancy from frontline forecasters
Fong replied to CCAC’s doubts on not consulting frontline technicians that the responsibilities of technicians are only confined to monitoring and forecasting, saying that any opinions about the hoisting of signals should be reported to the meteorology department head and that it was not necessary for the Director to consult frontline staff.
The CCAC report quoted Fong’s explanation that ‘technicians for sure are less experienced than Directors and analysis might not be accurate.’

In light of the online rumours about the Deputy Director’s religious beliefs, although CCAC could not confirm whether it is a fact, staff working for SMG disclosed that everyone in the department knew and some particular staff who were on duty during the night time felt anxious about Leong’s behaviour.
Although citizens can enjoy the freedom to have religious beliefs,the Commission opined that rituals or activities should be avoided in a working environment in order to prevent psychological impact upon colleagues and departments.
The Commission further criticised the former head for remaining indifferent to the matter.
The report reads that Leong had rejected the request made by the technician for arranging to have more staff working during the hit of Typhoon Hato, insisting that technicians should only observe the wind speed, not make decisions on hoisting signals.

A special consultation mechanism, including the participations of technicians to discuss typhoons, should be set up, suggested the watchdog.
A forecast emergent mechanism as well as a strong roster system should also be created.
CCAC further advised the initiation of standards for deciding the hoisting of typhoon signal publicised.
An improvement should also be made in terms of facilities and personnel management and a management panel should be responsible for resolving issues when they arise.
However, the report does not specify the accountability arrangement for the former SMG head.

The Chief Executive (CE) had instructed the Secretariat for Transport and Public Works to follow up on the SMG case, and was greatly concerned about the report submitted by CCAC, with the MSAR Government reiterating the safety of citizens. After the experience of the super typhoon, the government will lay out plans to improve the legal system, strengthen fundamental infrastructure and enhance personnel training in orde to improve the ability to prevent and reduce the destruction caused by such catastrophes.