PLC Paper No. FC 72
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/F/1/2

Finance Committee of the Provisional Legislative Council

Minutes of the meeting held at the Legislative Council Chamber on Friday, 14 November 1997, at 2:30 pm

Members present:

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP (Chairman)
Hon Henry WU (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon NG Leung-sing
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Dr Hon Mrs TSO WONG Man-yin
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon TSANG Yok-sing
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Dr Hon Charles YEUNG Chun-kam
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon CHIM Pui-chung
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon Paul CHENG Ming-fun, JP
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members absent :

Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon David LI Kwok-po, JP
Hon Allen LEE, JP
Hon NGAI Shiu-kit, JP
Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
Hon LEUNG Chun-ying, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Kam-lam
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Wong-fat, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen
Hon LO Suk-ching

Public officers attending :

Secretary for the Treasury
Mrs Carrie LAM, JP
Deputy Secretary for the Treasury
Principal Executive Officer (General), Finance Bureau
Ms Alice TAI, JP
Judiciary Administrator
Mr Johnny H K CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport
Mr Andrew S T CHEE
Assistant Director of Highways
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security
Mr TSE Chan-fai
District Commander, Border District of Hong Kong Police Force
Mr FAN Ho-chuen
Project Manager of Electrical and Mechanical Services Department
Ms Ellen CHOY
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Assistant Director of Education
Mr Wilson FUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands
Assistant Director of Agriculture and Fisheries
Senior Forestry Officer of Agriculture and Fisheries Department
Clerk in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Vivian KAM
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)5

Mr Matthew LOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)7

Item No. 1 - FCR(97-98)53


The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 2 - FCR(97-98)54


2.The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 3 - FCR(97-98)58


Subhead 111 Hire of services and professional fees

3.The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 4 - FCR(97-98)55

Subhead 273 Highways maintenance

4.In the light of serious flooding in the Mong Kok district after heavy rainfalls, a member expressed concern about the clearance of choked gullies in the district. The Assistant Director of Highways explained that clearance of gullies was done regularly in the district, although such efforts might have been hampered by the exceptionally heavy rainfall in the summer and significant construction activities in Mong Kok. He assured the member that consequent upon a consultancy study recently completed by the Drainage Services Department, the stormwater drainage system in Mong Kok would be upgraded in stages, and that efforts would be made to expedite the process. The Chairman advised that the subject could be followed up by the relevant panel, if considered necessary.

5.The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 5 - FCR(97-98)56

Subhead 624 Repairs and improvements to border fences
New item " Replacement of electronic sensor cable system along the land boundary fence "

6.Members sought elaboration on the effectiveness of the proposed electronic sensor cable system in combating illegal immigration activities along the border. The Project Manager of Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (PM/EMSD) said in response that the sensor of the existing system was triggered off easily by strong winds or heavy rains and this had necessitated the deployment of police officers to investigate the cause. The proposed system, which would have a life span of 15 years, would have the new and special features of instant visual display of target locations at the control suites, close circuit television and searchlights. These would make possible immediate identification of the causes of the alarm, and prevent wastage of manpower resources as a result of false alarms. The system was used in cities overseas and market research had confirmed the reliability and advanced technology of the system.

7.A member pointed out that police officers were currently using bicycles to get to the scene when the alarm was triggered off. This might not be an effective way of catching illegal immigrants. He suggested that motor cycles should be used instead. Another member enquired if illegal immigrants could cross the border from underneath the fence, and if measures other than the replacement system were in place to tie in with the proposed improvement. In this connection, the Chairman remarked that the arrest of an average of 200 illegal immigrants per month of which about 50% entered Hong Kong on land indicated that the system required improvement. A member asked if a double-fence installation would help enhance the effectiveness of the boundary control.

8.PM/EMSD confirmed that the proposed system could detect such acts as efforts in crossing the fence from underneath. The District Commander, Border District of Hong Kong Police Force, assured members that the boundary fence served as an effective deterrent against illegal immigration activities. As regards measures used in conjunction with the electronic sensor cable system, these included thermal imagers which were very effective especially at night time. The Force was reviewing the possibility of other modes of patrol including motor cycles, and the member's suggestion for putting up double fences along the border would be duly considered.

9.A member commented that the $4.7 million project management fees to be charged by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund constituted 11% of the total cost for the system. She sought assurance that the Force was getting the best deal through a proper negotiating process. PM/EMSD advised that a market research undertaken had concluded that the Force was getting value for money, and that the charges were calculated as a percentage of the cost for the project using an accepted formula. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Security added that the services of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department were normally used for projects of similar nature, and the Security Bureau and the Force were satisfied with the quality of the department's services and its charges.

10.The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 6 - FCR(97-98)57

Subhead 700 General other non-recurrent
New item " One-off grant to public sector secondary schools adopting Chinese as the medium of instruction "

11.Mrs Elsie TU declared interest as supervisor of a school.

12.Members noted that different treatments were proposed for schools which had already adopted Chinese as the medium of instruction (MOI) and those which would be using Chinese as the MOI for the first time from the 1998-99 school year. In the former case, the schools would only get a duplicator while the latter would be given additional resources for employing temporary clerical staff and purchasing teaching materials. Members considered the arrangement unfair to those schools which had taken the lead to use Chinese as the MOI.

13.The Assistant Director of Education (AD/E) explained that the schools in the former case included those which had all along been using Chinese as the MOI, as well as those which had started using Chinese as MOI in the 1997-98 school year. For these schools, assistance had already been provided in the form of library grants and additional teachers. The need of these schools for further assistance was therefore relatively small, and the additional digital duplicator proposed would facilitate the preparation of teaching materials. The additional resources for the employment of a temporary Clerical Assistant for 12 months would not be required in the case of these schools as the arrangement was to enable the schools to handle the additional work during the transitional period. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (PAS/E&M) added that the Administration had reviewed the support measures for schools adopting Chinese as the MOI and would introduce a number of improvements such as additional English teachers for Secondary 4 and 5, enhanced recurrent grants and the one-off grant in question. Schools already adopting Chinese as the MOI would also be eligible for the additional support measures. The different amounts of the one-off grant reflected the different needs of the schools concerned. Members nevertheless urged the Administration to consult these schools and provide as much assistance to them as early as possible.

14.A member emphasised the importance of clerical support in the switching of MOI and asked if more flexibility could be given to the employment of temporary staff in this regard. AD/E acknowledged the member's concern and advised that, as a permanent arrangement, all secondary schools would be provided with one additional clerical staff as from 1998-99 school year onwards. In addition, those schools being given the 12-month provision for employing clerical staff would have the discretion as regards the entry requirement, salary and duration of the appointment to suit their own needs.

15.On the broader issue of the Administration's policy in encouraging the use of Chinese or English as the MOI, a member referred to the Administration's estimate that 80% of public and subsidised secondary schools would use Chinese as the MOI in the coming three years and to press reports on the subject. He asked if there was a policy for limiting the percentage of schools using English as the MOI.

16.AD/E said in reply that 124 schools had applied to continue to use English as the MOI in 1998-99. Their applications would be considered by an independent assessment committee set up by the Education Department. PAS(E&M) assured the member that there was no predetermined percentage on schools which could use English as the MOI. The Administration would have regard to factors listed in the Medium of Instruction Guidance for Secondary Schools when considering whether particular schools should use Chinese or English as the MOI.

17.The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 7 - FCR(97-98)59

Subhead 700 General other non-recurrent
New item " Consultancy study on wetland compensation "

18.Members noted that the purpose of committing $50 million for the consultancy study was to develop methodology for implementing mitigation measures on the loss of wetlands as a result of development pressure. They enquired about Hong Kong's obligation under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance and whether it was practical to commission a study to, inter alia, identify potential sites suitable for replacement if the last remaining stretch of wetland habitat was already known, as indicated in the paper.

19.The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands and the Assistant Director of Agriculture and Fisheries (AD/A&F) advised that under the Ramsar Convention, Hong Kong had an obligation to promote the conservation of its listed wetland in Mai Po and Inner Bay and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in the territory. As private developments and public projects might affect wetlands in the region, a comprehensive study had been proposed on the impact of such developments in order for the Administration to develop an overall methodology for implementing mitigation measures on the loss of wetlands. Staff in the Agriculture and Fisheries Department did not have the necessary resources for undertaking the study, and the appointment of consultants in accordance with the usual tendering procedure would be necessary. Practical mitigation measures would be drawn up in compliance with the procedure of Environmental Impact Assessments to address the cumulative impact on wetland resources. In response to a member's question, AD/A&F explained that the Shenzhen Authority was also conducting its own study on the Futien Nature Reserve and had experience in, for example, planting of mangroves. The consultants would be requested to make reference to the findings of the Shenzhen study and experience.

20.A member questioned the high cost of $50 million for the consultancy study since many data on the subject was available in tertiary institutions. In particular, he drew members' attention to the expenditure item of $1.67 million for conducting a consultation exercise. He pointed out that consultants usually approached tertiary institutions for information when conducting the consultation exercise. This part of the consultancy fees could have been saved should the Government find out from the tertiary institution, in the first instance, what data was already available. AD/A&F explained that the Administration did not have much data on the subject and required the service of consultants to conduct a consultation exercise which would include large scale workshops for gauging opinions from parties concerned. He undertook to provide a breakdown of the estimated cost of $1.67 million for the consultation exercise.Admin

21.In the light of the member's concern, the Chairman requested the Administration to make enquiries with tertiary institutions on the availability of data with a view to reducing costs. AD/A&F confirmed that this would be done. A request would be made in the study brief for the consultants to review data available and include such information in their submissions so as to enable the Administration to assess the consultants' competitiveness.

22.On the schedule for completing the project, a member sought clarification on whether 27 or 29 months would be required. The Senior Forestry Officer of Agriculture and Fisheries Department said in reply that while a period of 27 months was anticipated for completion of the study, an extra two months was allowed for to compile the final report and take follow-up actions. The member remarked that in the circumstances a period of 29 months should have been stated to avoid confusion.

23.The Committee approved the proposal.

24.The Committee was adjourned at 4:00 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
9 December 1997