LC Paper No. FC53/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/F/1/2

Finance Committee of the Legislative Council
Minutes of the eighth meeting
held at the Legislative Council Chamber
on Friday, 13 November 1998, at 2:30 pm

Members present :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHAN Kam-lam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon HUI Cheung-ching
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon FUNG Chi-kin
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent :

Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Dr Hon David LI Kwok-po, JP
Dr Hon LUI Ming-wah, JP
Hon NG Leung-sing
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Public officers attending :

Miss Denise YUE, JP
Secretary for the Treasury

Mrs Carrie LAM, JP
Deputy Secretary for the Treasury

Principal Executive Officer (General), Finance Bureau

Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service (1)

Mr Thomas CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service (Appointments)

Assistant Director of Accounting Services

Mr Joseph LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mr Raymond CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency

Assistant Director of Education

Ms Michelle LI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Prof. Danny S N WONG
Vice President (Academic), Open University of Hong Kong

Mrs Sarah KWOK
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr HSU King-ping, JP
Deputy Director of Fire Services

Mr LAM Chun-man, JP
Chief Fire Officer

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Staff in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

Item No. 1 - FCR(98-99)41


Referring to item PWSC(98-99)33 and the supplementary information note PWSCI(98-99)19 provided by the Administration shortly before this meeting, a member sought clarification on the estimated cost of $6.1 million for "associated road, drainage, and landscaping works" for project 125TB - Pedestrian subway at the junction of Kowloon Park Drive and Peking Road. In view of the member's query, the Chairman suggested and members agreed that PWSC(98-99)33 should be further considered by the Public Works Subcommittee.

2. The Deputy Secretary for the Treasury withdrew the said PWSC item.

3. FCR(98-99)41, except item PWSC(98-99)33, was put to the vote and approved by the Committee.

Item No. 2 - FCR(98-99)42

New Recurrent Account Subhead "Rent Allowance Scheme"

4. In view of the fall in rental of residential property, a member enquired whether the rates payable under the proposed Rent Allowance Scheme (RAS) would be scaled down. In reply, the Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service (1) (PAS/CS(1)) advised that the scale of rates under the RAS would be pegged to the prevailing Home Financing Allowance (HFA) under the Home Financing Scheme (HFS). The next revision of the rates of HFA would take place on 1 April 1999; any upward or downward adjustment of the property market during the past year would be reflected in the revised rates.

5. As regards the impact, if any, on the entitlement of RAS recipients should there be an adjustment in the rates of allowance, PAS/CS(1) confirmed that an officer in receipt of the rent allowance would continue to draw the same allowance throughout his agreement period despite any adjustments to the scale of rates made during that period. As in the case of the HFS, any subsequent revision in the rates of allowance would only apply to officers who first joined the RAS after such revised rates came into effect.

6. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 3 - FCR(98-99)43

Subhead 153 Textbooks and stationery grants

7. Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung declared his interest as the principal of a private school under the Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS). Mr TAM Yiu-chung declared his interest as the chairman of the Committee of Management of Mongkok Workers' Children School which was also a DSS school.

8. On whether the level of textbook and stationery grants under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme (STAS) would be further improved, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS/EM) assured members that the various financial assistance schemes for students, including the STAS, were subject to regular reviews and the Administration would keep the Education Panel posted of any proposed improvements.

9. Referring to the Administration's view that the present arrangement was "neither satisfactory nor effective", DS/EM explained in reply to a member that the problem was mainly two-fold. Firstly, the existing disbursement method was indirect as payment was not effected directly by the Student Financial Assistance Agency. Secondly, as the existing element of textbook assistance included under the recurrent subsidy to DSS schools only represented an average figure and was disbursable at the discretion of the school concerned, the actual needs of individual students might not be adequately met.

10. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 4 - FCR(98-99)44

New Capital Account Subhead "One-off grant to the Student Loan Fund of the Open University of Hong Kong"

11. Mr TSANG Yok-sing declared his interest as a member of the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) Council.

12. A member was concerned about students of the OUHK defaulting loan repayment when they discontinued studies and enquired on possible sanctions on these students.

13. In response, the Vice President (Academic) of OUHK (VP/A) advised that depending on whether the defaulting student had enrolled for a degree programme or a single subject course, the OUHK would withhold his transcript or course result pending repayment of the loan. He further informed members that as at present, there was only one student who had failed to effect repayment on time and the amount involved was about $4,700.

14. On the current financial position of the Student Loan Fund (SLF) established since 1995, VP/A advised that the Fund had a ledger balance of some $57.6 million, a large portion of which had been disbursed and the total funds available for disbursement were insufficient to satisfy the demand. In this connection, members noted that the SLF operated as a revolving fund and that a capital sum of not less than $25 million in the Fund had to be kept for investment.

15. Regarding those students who had not been able to obtain a loan in the October 1998 semester, VP/A confirmed in reply to a member that they would not be automatically re-considered on this occasion. However, he stressed that if the one-off grant of $50 million was approved, the OUHK would step up publicity on the SLF so as to ensure that needy students would not miss the opportunity to apply for the loan at the commencement of the next semester.

16. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 5 - FCR(98-99)45

Subhead 603 Plant, vehicles and equipment

17. Noting that the proposed use of carbon composite cylinders for the breathing apparatus (BA) sets would reduce a fireman's total load by 24% to about 20kg, a member enquired whether the said total load was compatible with international practice and whether the Administration had plans to further reduce it.

18. In reply, the Deputy Director of Fire Services (DD of FS) assured members that the tools and equipment used by fire-fighters were regularly reviewed in the light of technological developments. He confirmed that the total load of some 20kg as a result of using the light-weight cylinder was broadly comparable to that borne by fire-fighters in overseas jurisdictions.

19. In view of the improvements brought about by the use of carbon composite BA cylinders, some members considered that these cylinders should have been adopted much earlier. They urged the Administration to expedite the implementation schedule.

20. In response, DD of FS informed members that the proposed type of cylinders was only available in 1994. The Fire Services Department had thereafter conducted an in-house evaluation and on-site tests to ascertain the suitability of the carbon composite cylinders for the local operational environment. DD of FS further advised that in line with existing requirements, the open tendering process would take a few months, but the Administration would try its best to expedite implementation.

21. In reply to a member about possible risks associated with the existing steel BA cylinders, DD of FS pointed out that starting from 1986, the cylinders were protected by tailor-made canvas bags, and hence, the potential hazard of sparking upon the steel cylinder's impact with other objects under explosive environment had been minimised.

22. On the reasons for the increase in annually recurrent expenditure, DD of FS advised that this was because more spare parts would be required for the carbon composite cylinders. A higher cost for testing was also expected as the existing cylinders had to be tested once every five years whereas the proposed cylinders would require a test in every three years.

23. The Committee approved the proposal.

24. The Committee was adjourned at 3:15 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
4 January 1999