Weather bureau chief resigns following heavy criticism

Fong Soi Kun

The long-criticized Meteorological and Geophysical Bureau (SMG) head, Fong Soi Kun, has resigned from his post, following criticism from residents and lawmakers regarding the bureau’s failure to raise typhoon signals to an appropriate level.

The announcement was made last night by chief executive Chui Sai On at a press conference organized to update the public on the disaster relief measures of the government.

Chui said that the deputy director of SMG will temporarily operate as the bureau’s chief. He said Fong had retired but was not exempt from an investigation.

Residents have been slamming the bureau since August last year, after it failed to raise Signal 8 when Typhoon Nida stuck Macau.

The criticism continued this week after SMG predicted that a maximum speed of 118 km/hour was recorded for Typhoon Hato, yet only raised Signal 3 around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

SMG then raised the tropical cyclone signal to Signal 8 at approximately 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, while Hong Kong had already issued T8 by midnight the previous night.

Signal 10 was issued shortly before midday; a warning that was deemed too late for residents who were already on their way to work.

Lawmakers this week also called for Fong’s resignation, with Ho Ion Sang and Si Ka Lon saying that “SMG did not perform their predictive functions at all.”

Ho argued that Hong Kong and Zhuhai consistently predicted the destructive power of the typhoon the day before, while the MSAR, which is in the middle of the two regions, was unprepared.

Si Ka Lon stated that the Civil Protection Operational Center did not issue sufficient warnings in advance, noting that it failed to remind residents to be prepared for storms.

Si considered that government officials, who are criticized by the public, should be accountable for failures to meet their responsibilities.

In August last year, Fong reasoned that the weather was not rough enough to justify the high typhoon warning signal, noting that hoisting Signal 8 requires an average wind speed above 63 km/hour.

Back in October, SMG also incorrectly declared a Signal 8 for Typhoon Haima, when the wind speed on that day in Macau was weaker than forecasted.

Fong this week has admitted that his bureau’s forecast was “not perfect,” and that it was “slightly wrong.”

Fong argued that the bureau could not compare the effects of the typhoon in Hong Kong or Zhuhai with Macau.

Since August, residents have been calling for Fong to resign over his decisions, which also led the Macau Civil Servants Association, led by lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho, to submit a petition to the office of the chief executive to launch an investigation into SMG’s operations.

The lawmaker stressed that the bureau’s problems and operations are highly important, not just for SMG staff, but for the general public.

Typhoon Hato has wrought massive damage to the city, leading to the absence of water and electricity to thousands of residents until yesterday.

In a press conference on Wednesday night, Fong was questioned whether the bureau downplayed the typhoon – causing poor disaster coordination efforts and responses.

However, the bureau head responded, “We knew that there are some differences between [us] and what the majority of the [weather] centers [predicted]. So, we released some of the information in advance.”

Fong said that despite issuing the Signal 8 warning at 9 a.m., the information was available to the public as early as 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, several netizens are slamming the bureau for failing to coordinate with relevant authorities to disseminate safety measures to citizens. Others criticize the region for holding road construction projects during the city’s typhoon season.

Categories Headlines Macau