LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 1504/95-96
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/HG/1
LegCo Panel on Housing
Minutes of Meeting held
on Monday, 1 April 1996 at 10:45 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
Hon LEE Wing-tat (Chairman)
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee (Deputy Chairman)
Hon SZETO Wah
Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
Hon LI Wah-ming
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon HO Chun-yan
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LO Suk-ching
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Members Absent :
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, OBE, JP
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, OBE, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, OBE, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Public Officers :
- For Agenda Items III and IV
- Mr Andrew R Wells
- Deputy Secretary for Housing
- For Agenda Item III
- Mr Simon LI
- Senior Assistant Director/Estate Management
Staff in Attendance :
- Mrs Vivian KAM
- Chief Assistant Secretary (1)2
- Miss Becky YU
- Senior Assistant Secretary (1)3
(LegCo Papers No. PL 1010, 1017 and 1073/95-96)
The notes of the meetings held on 16 and 18 January 1996, and the joint-Panel meeting with the Planning, Lands and Works Panel held on 13 February 1996 were confirmed.
(Appendix II to LegCo Paper No. PL 1127/95-96)
2. The Chairman reminded members of the special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, 16 April 1996 at 2:30 pm, to discuss the Review on the Home Ownership Scheme.
(Post meeting note: At the suggestion of the Administration and with the concurrence of the Chairman, a special briefing by the Administration on the Housing Demand Model of the Long Term Housing Strategy Review was also scheduled for 23 April 1996 at 2:30 pm.)
3. Members agreed to re-schedule the next regular meeting on 6 May 1996 to Tuesday, 7 May 1996, in order not to clash with a public hearing of the Public Accounts Committee. The subject on "Management and Maintenance of Public Housing Estates" would be discussed at the meeting.
(Post meeting note: At the instruction of the Chairman, two additional items on "Fraud Cases Involving the Sale of Properties" and "Safeguarding Rational Allocation of Public Housing Resources - Income and Asset Assessments" had been included in the agenda for the meeting on 7 May 1996.)
(Appendix II to LegCo Paper No. PL 1127/95-96)
4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr Simon LI updated members on the latest position of the subject. The Housing Department (HD) had a full list of all elderly singletons living in public housing estates; each of them was contacted at least once a month by the respective Estate Management Offices (EMOs). In addition, the Estate Liaison Officer (ELO) Scheme which had been implemented since 1990 and which were serving over 11,600 elderly tenants in 11 public housing estates, had also reinforced services to the elderly. The Scheme had been successful in promoting neighbourhood support, recruiting and training elderly volunteers with a view to establishing an effective mutual supportive network among elderly people in the same community, and introducing welfare services to needy elderly tenants. The HD planned to extend the ELO Scheme to another 15 public housing estates in 1996, and would continue to expand the scheme at the pace of 10 estates per annum thereafter until the year 2000. On top of these, the Department Communication Centre operating on a 24-hour basis would also render emergency services to needy tenants.
5. Although HD staff providing service to tenants under the ELO Scheme had received on the job training, Mr LI shared a member' s view that the Scheme was more of a welfare nature and should more appropriately be staffed by professionally trained social workers. To this end, the HD was exploring with the SWD the possibility of entrusting non-government organisations in the provision of such a service under the direct supervision of the SWD. It would nevertheless be necessary for the HD to retain responsibility for those areas where legal obligations were involved.
6. Having regard to the large number of public housing estates in the territory, members expressed concern on whether the planned expansion of the Scheme would be sufficient to meet the needs of elderly tenants, in particular those living alone, and urged the Administration to accelerate the pace of implementation of the Scheme. Mr LI took note of members'concern but advised that priority in implementation had to be accorded in consideration of resources implications. In respect of work performed by the ELOs during the Lunar New Year cold spell, Mr LI advised that the ELOs had reached out to all elderly persons in public housing estates and arranged for the distribution of over 1,000 blankets. A number of elderly tenants were sent to hospitals for care as a result of the visits. In reply to a related question, Mr LI assured members that the ELO Scheme would remain intact upon implementation of the privatisation scheme for the management and maintenance of public housing estates.
7. As regards the Emergency Alarm System (EAS), Mr LI advised that alarm sets would be installed on a need basis and at the expenses of the tenants concerned. Consideration was being given to installing the alarm system for elderly recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and for single handicapped persons on a reimbursement basis; details of the eligibility criteria would be worked out by the Social Welfare Department (SWD). In order to meet operational needs, the HD together with the SWD were actively considering a new system alongside with other systems referred to in paragraph 5 of the information paper. While all systems would link the alarm devices to a central control centre, the new system would have an added advantage of two-way communication between the control centre and the individual raising the alarm. Data on the person concerned, such as his biodata and medical history etc., could be identified instantly through the system to facilitate appropriate and immediate emergency service.
8. On the installation and recurrent costs of the EAS, Mr LI advised that none of the five types of emergency alarm systems examined by the HD required installation charges. The basic unit would be provided free of charge by the suppliers, while the monthly service fee would range from HK$80 to HK$120. Mr LI emphasised that the HD would not recommend any particular system as each had its own merits which could meet different clients'needs. A leaflet on these systems would be compiled to help the elderly in deciding which one to take. Mr LI supplemented that consideration would also be given to connect the EAS to the EMOs if so requested by the elderly tenants. A member suggested that the Administration should co-ordinate responses from the tenants concerned in order to negotiate better service terms with the suppliers.
9. Members considered that since the EAS was not costly and was required for an emergency and essential purpose, it should be provided to all elderly tenants in public housing estates regardless of their financial situation. A member further suggested setting up a fund among the Government, the Housing Authority and the Hong Kong Jockey Club so that interests generated could be used to pay for such a service; this would alleviate the envisaged financial burden on the Government. Mr LI undertook to convey members'concern to the SWD for consideration. He emphasised also that alarm sets were installed on a need basis and there was thus no specific time frame for the implementation of EAS. The Clerk was requested to write to the SWD on the yardsticks adopted in assessing such a need. Mr LI further advised that a funding proposal was being considered by the SWD taking into consideration the fact that discretionary grant was available to cover ad hoc expenses such as the provision of telephones to elderly singletons.
10. As regards the accountability of EAS suppliers, Mr LI advised that both the clients and the suppliers were required to enter into an agreement detailing the liabilities of parties concerned. He reckoned that the SWD would duly consider mapping out a monitoring mechanism on the mode of operation of EAS suppliers. A copy of the agreement would be provided by the Administration for members'reference. In respect of elderly tenants who were hard of hearing, Mr LI confirmed that alternative devices would be considered.
11. On the installation of "pole-socket" type clothes-drying facilities for elderly households, Mr LI explained that such facilities were so designed as these were governed by physical constraints of the estates concerned.
12. Mr LI assured members that the HD would also consider installing corridor handrails in the older estates where necessary subject to tenants'request and the availability of space. The time frame would be dependent on the complexity of work involved.
13. In response to members, Mr LI advised that the HD would extend lift services to all floors in the older estates not included in the Comprehensive Redevelopment Programme. Special consideration would also be given to public housing estates where the installation of lift facilities was structurally not feasible.
14. Members asked whether the HD would re-consider the policy for two single and unrelated elderly persons to share a public rental unit. Mr LI advised that compulsory sharing of a unit had been abolished, and units which were converted for shared tenancies would be restored after the tenants had moved out. Voluntary applications for shared tenancy would however continue to be entertained. Mr LI supplemented that applications for addition of family members from co-tenants in a shared unit would likewise be processed, and applicants would be reminded of the possible delay in the Waiting List for public rental housing as a result of such additions. Mr LI emphasised that each application would be considered on its own merits and temporary housing would be provided wherever possible subject to the availability of resources.
15. On questions relating to the rehousing arrangements for elderly bedspace lodgers after the enactment of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance, Mr LI advised that public rental housing would be provided to eligible candidates for compassionate rehousing. The supply of singleton hostel places would also be increased to tie in with the expected increase in demand. On members92' request, Mr LI undertook to liaise with the Secretary for Home Affairs for information on the number of bedspace lodgers.
16. In referring to paragraph 12 of the information paper, Mr LI corrected a mistake therein and confirmed that young families in both urban and New Town estates were encouraged to include elderly parents or relatives in their tenancies and apply for transfer to larger flats in new towns. Mr LI supplemented that only under very exceptional circumstances and upon the professional advice of the SWD would applications for rehousing in urban estates on compassionate ground be considered.
17. Mr Frederick FUNG Kin-kee took the chair in the ensuing meeting as Mr LEE Wing-tat would brief the Panel on his proposed Bill. Messrs LEE Wing-tat and LIU Sing-lee were then invited to introduce their Bills.
Housing (Amendment) Bill 1996 by Hon LEE Wing-tat
(Appendices III and IV to LegCo Paper No. PL 1127/95-96)
18. Mr LEE informed the Panel that the purpose of the Bill he proposed was to amend the Housing Ordinance (Cap 283) to increase transparency, accountability and representativeness of the Housing Authority (HA) through the inclusion in HA members from the Legislative Council (LegCo), the Urban Council, the Regional Council and the District Boards, and by empowering the LegCo to approve or veto as a whole, and not selectively, those persons appointed by the Governor to the HA. This would ensure a proper monitoring and check and balance mechanism in the appointment system. In order to maintain continuity, any member of the HA who was appointed under the Housing Ordinance (Cap 283) and whose term had not expired under section 3(4) of the Ordinance should be deemed to have been appointed under the proposed Bill without prejudice to the expiration date of his most recent appointment under the Housing Ordinance (Cap 283). The Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the HA should be elected from amongst its members.
19. Mr LIU advised that the purpose of the Bill he proposed was to make changes to the composition of the HA to enhance public involvement and credibility and to strike a correct balance between the interests of parties concerned. The HA should consist of six persons nominated by and from the LegCo; a person nominated by and from each District Board (18 in total); and not more than 12 other persons, not being public officers, who had the experience and knowledge in housing-related matters. The Chairman and the Vice Chairman of the HA should be elected from amongst its members. The proposed Bill should come into operation on a day to be appointed by the Secretary for Housing (S for H) by notice in gazette after its passage in the LegCo. The appointment of any member of the HA appointed before commencement of the proposed Bill should cease immediately upon commencement. Mr LIU emphasised that since membership of the HA would still be by appointment by the Governor, the Bill was not seeking to change the existing appointment and executive-led system.
20. The Chairman then invited the Administration' s comments on the Bills. Mr Andrew R Wells advised that while a detailed response would be provided at the Bills Committee Stage, he would state briefly the Administration' s stand at the current meeting. He considered the reasons given for the introduction of both Bills unconvincing. By way of example, the allegation outlined in paragraph 5 of Appendix IV of the information paper was an exaggeration of the situation. Although problems might exist in the operation of the HA, the Administration did not consider that the two Bills would address such problems. On the contrary, the Bills would have the following negative impact on the principle and practices of the HA:
- The vetting of appointments to the HA by LegCo was fundamentally at variance with the present executive-led system. The proposal sought to limit and fetter the Governor' s power of appointment and this would have serious implications on other statutory and advisory bodies.
- Both Bills would upset and confuse the independent roles of the executive (in the formulation of policies) and the legislature (in passing legislation and monitoring the performance of the Administration). The HA was responsible for managing a very substantial capital budget and for making policy decisions within broad parameters set by the S for H. Under the circumstances prescribed by the Bills, the same group of people would be deciding on and at the same time implementing policies and expenditures. This would inevitably create conflicts of interest.
- The Bills would alter the existing system of appointing the best candidates on an individual basis and remove the balance between professional expertise and community representation in the HA. The Administration was worried that future policy decisions of the HA might be inclined towards making political compromises rather than in the wider interest of the community if for instance the LegCo was dominated by one political party.
21. Mr Wells emphasised that the existing system was a practical one as it maintained a fair balance between professional expertise and community representation; it was also useful to have official representatives in the HA. The two Bills would remove such a balance and create a risk of insufficient expertise in various fields.
22. Members were not convinced that a fair and balanced composition could be achieved through the existing system whereby appointments were made by the Governor in the absence of public scrutiny. They quoted an example of appointment to the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) Steering Committee. Accordingly, they sought clarification on the appointment criteria being applied in the current system. While some members disagreed that the independence of the HA or other statutory bodies would be compromised even if the LegCo was to be dominated by one political party and made reference to overseas experience where most statutory bodies were appointed by the opposition party, others shared the Administration' s concern on possible politicisation and the implications on other statutory bodies.
23. Mr Wells said that the Administration recognised the importance of community and professional representations in the HA and every attempt had been made to ensure that views from both sides would be taken into account in the formulation of policy decisions. He emphasised that while there were genuine and important criteria in identifying potential candidates such as their willingness and commitment to serve, flexibility was both necessary and desirable. As regards the LTHS Steering Committee, Mr Wells said that in view of the different nature of the two bodies: the former being an advisory group advising the S for H on the LTHS while the latter was an executive arm of the Administration, a direct comparison between the Committee and the HA was inappropriate. He assured members that the Governor would consider the list of potential appointees to the HA proposed by the S for H in the wider interest of the public before giving his final approval. At members'request, Mr Wells undertook to provide in writing a general description of the system of appointment to the HA. A member also asked for an analysis of the background of HA members'for the last three terms.
24. Mr LEE emphasised that it would take time for the positive effects of his Bill to be seen and that he had no intention to alter the appointment system of other similar bodies at the point in time. Mr LIU also stressed that his Bill would not deprive the HA of professional expertise since one-third of its membership would still be from professional disciplines; neither would it create any conflict between the Administration and the Legislature. Mr LIU also confirmed that he had no intention to apply the spirit of his Bill to other statutory bodies.
25. Mr Wells re-iterated that the proposed vetting of appointments was a departure from the present executive-led system. While he welcomed the two members'assurances that the Bills would not be extended to other statutory bodies, Mr Wells cautioned that it might be the first step to future changes. Moreover, a politicised membership of the HA would erode the important element of individual contribution.
26. The Chairman suggested inclusion of a discussion item on the Input of Political Parties in Housing-related Matters in a future meeting.
27. There being no other business, the meeting closed at 4:30 pm.
30 May 1996
Last Updated on 20 Aug, 1998