An authentic journey into the Efficiency Unit

Nearly a month ago, I noted the unlamented departures of a couple of plasticky Soho restaurants – the Italian one with the name no-one could pronounce, and one we can barely remember but it had some sort of slobby sports-bar concept. Their landlord-fodder replacements have now opened.


One is an Italian place called ‘Prego’ which I think has moved from another location nearby as part of the ‘musical chairs’ circulation of dining places around the neighbourhood. Named for a genre of pornography, apparently, it promises an authentic journey into provincial dining with home-style cooking straight from Mamma’s kitchen!

With startling originality, the other is… Italian. At first glance, it seems to be called Costello, as in Abbott and… Which would possibly be amusing as a theme. But closer inspection shows the name to be ‘Castello’, which the signage suggests might be Italian for ‘castle’. The signage hanging overhead claims the establishment to be ‘paleo friendly’ and to have gluten-free options. Both these fads imply an absence of wheat, which in turn implies an absence of pasta and bread – basics of Italian cuisine. Presumably they will be serving olive-flavoured rice cakes.

As with all Soho restaurants paying idiotic rents to the local landlords, it will be economically impossible for these outlets to offer anything vaguely like value for money. The preference for investors to launch Italian places is probably connected to the fact that Italian means wine, which means big mark-ups, and it means pasta, which also means big mark-ups. This could make the gluten-free/paleo Italian idea a bit of a challenge. A teetotal gluten-free/paleo Italian joint would go bankrupt in days.

I also mentioned the obstruction created by another vacant space…


I reported it to the Hong Kong government’s Efficiency Unit, using their TellMe@1823 app. I attached the above photo and pointed out that the narrowness of the sidewalk forced pedestrians to walk in the street, which is obviously dangerous. Five weeks after submitting this report, I get the following reply…

…The staff of Buildings Department’s term consultant has been assigned to carry out inspection. The inspection revealed that timber hoarding was erected on the pavement outside the aforesaid address.

[quote from Buildings Dept] “…As the timber hoarding was temporary work and there was no imminent danger and serious obstruction to the public, no action will be taken by this Department. We will keep monitoring the situation and should circumstances so require in future, appropriate action will be taken.”…

I made this complaint because the app seemed a novelty. I had zero expectation that the civil servants in the Efficiency Unit and beyond would get anything done. But I am still, in my naivety, a bit surprised by the complete absence of initiative, or plain awareness. Someone went to inspect the timber hoarding erected on the pavement and found that it was a timber hoarding erected on the pavement. He then determined that it was not dangerous or a serious obstruction – even though it clearly forces people into the traffic.

My hunch is that the key phrase in the Efficiency Unit’s response is ‘Buildings Department’. The deputy assistant sub-cretin sent to do the inspection does buildings only; he saw that the hoarding was not about to fall on anyone and kill them, and concluded all was well. If you had asked him whether the hoarding could cause someone walking from, say, Prego to Castello to be hit by a vehicle in the road, he would say that he doesn’t do pavements or roads or traffic – that’s the job of the Blah Blah Department. And can I have my pension now, please? And the Efficiency Unit’s deputy assistant sub-autist passes the message on without questioning anything. (What would an Inefficiency Unit do?) You’d be out the door in minutes if you handled customers like this at a hotel or an airline. Or a Soho restaurant.

And these people wonder why everyone thinks they’re a waste of space.


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13 Responses to An authentic journey into the Efficiency Unit

  1. Big Al says:

    Oh, I thought palelo-friendly meant the place was nice to dinosaurs. That will be a disappointment to the upper levels of the Civil Service and other cold-blooded reptiles.

  2. PCC says:

    Thank you for sharing. That is some pretty impressive footwork on the part of the Hong Kong Civil Service.

    The Efficiency Unit deftly passed the complaint onto the Buildings Department. The Buildings Department deftly avoided taking any responsibility for the obstruction before deftly passing the complaint back to the Efficiency Unit. The Efficiency Unit deftly passed the untouched complaint (visions of a steaming turd held out at the end of a crooked stick) back to the complainant.

    Phew! That was a close one. Government officials almost had to take responsibility for something. But it came out all right in the end. And now they’re all five weeks closer to their hard-earned pension bonanza!

    Trebles all ’round!

  3. Probably says:

    And when the woiden boarding is removed from the new shop front how many inches has the front door crept out onto the footpath from it’s previous position? Walk down most streets in HK and all of the shops project out to varying degrees and not in line with each other or the upper floors of the same building.

  4. Docta G says:

    It’s getting on top of you. You need a holiday. Come to Stanley and enjoy our Tasmanian hamburgers next to McDonalds. As for Efficiency Unit and the Hong Kong Government, it’s just a one-liner, isn’t it?

  5. Regislea says:

    In reading about your brush with the Efficiency Department, I am reminded of Robert Conquest’s Third Law of Politics:

    The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

    Just en passant (that is your actual French), it also applies to the way the FCC management (I use the term loosely) behaves.

  6. gweiloeye says:

    FYI it is rumoured that this particular footpath blocker belongs to the same group that owns enoteca next door. As you mentioned its the musical chairs thing where Cicada will move in after getting shafted from the Shelley street address that is becoming/became a wanky overpriced/undersized hotel.

  7. Des Espoir says:

    When the 1823 service started it was quite good – they would call you back after a couple of days to see if you had heard from the Govet department, and chase them up if need be. It has however now become a tool for the bureaucrats to insulate themselves from having to contact directly any of the members of the public…. Transport Dept for example, on their website give no direct contact numbers, just keep telling you to contact 1823 if you want anything… The best way nowadays is to try the Government telephone directory – you can then get hold of Cremona Wong DIRECTLY, and force her to actually speak to you, make a decision, and justify inaction…

  8. Probably says:

    @des espoir, best link posted in a long time. My dialling finger is twitching – but hold on, it’ s after 5.00pm so no chance of anyone picking up then.

    Even more scary is the number of names under each department. So ma y indexed linked pe sions for us remaini g taxpahers to subsidise. Am I the only person in HK still working in private industry?

  9. Laguna Lurker says:

    Back in the day when I was a young uniformed police inspector on patrol, we would be allotted a number of files each week, requiring us to visit and assess certain premises for their compliance—or otherwise—with relevant laws. These included printing presses; explosives magazines at large building site formation areas; billiard halls; mahjong parlours; liquor-licensed premises; dance halls and—yes—building hoardings. We were even expected to report street lamps that were out of order and potholes in the road! It seems that the constabulary was then the only government body entrusted with enforcing the law and ensuring public safety. (Or perhaps it was a way of enlarging the scope for casual corruption. If so, I was too naïve to appreciate the opportunities presented.) Almost all of these supervisory functions have now either been transferred to other departments or eliminated.

    Anyway, hoardings that caused obstruction to the footpath such as to force pedestrians into the road were required by law to have a fenced and lighted pedestrian lane with a width of three feet alongside the footpath as a safe refuge from traffic. If this law has since been changed, why?

  10. Mary Melville says:

    I have been using this legislation recently for similar obstructions in my ‘hood.

    Wait for police, whip out ID card and warble about zero accidents on the road. Been quite successful. Police warn the operator. Ask for report number. Then quote the RN if obstruction is not removed and request follow up action.

    I find the police is still the most responsive, or should I say only, enforcer on the streets.

    1823 is a joke, cut and paste responses that shield the departments from taking any actual action.

    228 Title: SUMMARY OFFENCES ORDINANCE Gazette Number:
    Section: 4A Heading: Obstruction of public places Version Date: 30/06/1997
    Any person who without lawful authority or excuse sets out or leaves, or causes to be set out or left, any matter or thing which obstructs, inconveniences or endangers, or may obstruct, inconvenience or endanger, any person or vehicle in a public place shall be liable to a fine of $5000 or to imprisonment for 3 months

  11. Cassowary says:

    Be careful what you wish for. If the government became more efficient, you might wake up one morning to find a whole lot of ugly steel railings along the edge of the pavement “to protect pedestrian safety”. The hoarding will still be there, but now you’ll be forced to walk in single file. Not quite what you were going for, I imagine.

  12. Mosh says:

    Shouldn’t you report the efficiency unit and buildings department to the efficiency unit for not efficiently responding to or dealing with your complaint?

  13. Nimby says:

    Des Espoir nails it,
    an additional function is the generation of opportunities for outsourcing to friends and family of CY, and other banal forms of evil, while dressing it up as doing good.

    Resolving your door problem just didn’t offer enough money to make it interesting, where as having someone killed on the spot would offer an opportunity to build railings to a friendly contractor. The railt would offer only space for the smallest child to pass between the shops and the rail. This would force more people into the street, and eventually if enough people die, then demand for public housing is reduced. Wins all around that way.

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