Taxpayers will fork out HK$6.8 million for the skip trade to bring illegal roadside skips into compliance with the law, the government revealed this week.
The scheme, a collaboration between the government and the skip operator trade, will see around 300 skips brought into line by the end of 2021, an initiative which the government says will “uplift the road safety and environmental performance of the entire skip trade in Hong Kong.”
Each skip owner can apply for up to 70 skips to be upgraded with a subsidy of around $22,000 each, using one of 14 officially-blessed contractors. The upgrade work includes painting each end of the skip yellow, adding reflective strips and flashing lights, installing hooks for covers and adding the company name to each skip.
The government says the subsidy will cover “the substantial retrofitting fees”.
But one industry analyst noted these “upgrades” are already the legal minimum requirements for roadside skip safety.
And a Transit Jam investigation found the first pilot batch of 30 “certified skips” rolled out last year fell well short of promises, with broken or missing lights, illegal overloading, illegal uncovering and illegal placements.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) says the new subsidy scheme is an extension of that 2020 pilot scheme and, with the additional 300 skips in the upgraded fleet, will later roll out its “Certification Scheme for Skips”, “Registration Scheme for Skip Operators” and a “Charter for Skip Users”.
EPD could not say how many skips exist in Hong Kong, nor why the taxpayer was funding construction firms’ longstanding failures to obey road safety and environmental laws. But the department stressed that no money would be disbursed directly to skip owners, with the HK$6.8 million to be paid directly to the chosen skip upgrade companies.
Statistics reveal a poor enforcement record by the police and Lands Department over the years: between 2013 and 2015, the two authorities together received 5,870 complaints about dangerous skips: just 41 of these were removed and only 25 cases were prosecuted, with fines for those prosecuted ranging between $450 and $2,500.
Those figures were despite a scathing 2013 report from the Audit Commission criticising lax standards in roadside skip management.
The Audit Commission report had found “100% of the skips did not have clear markings indicating that the disposal of domestic, flammable, hazardous and chemical waste was not permitted, 99% were not covered with clean waterproof canvas, 98% were not provided with yellow flashing lights during the hours of darkness, and 39% were placed at ‘no-stopping’ restricted zones. Audit also noted that two locations had continuously been occupied by one to nine skips throughout the 38-day period.”
Skip owners have until September 2021 to apply for the subsidy.