LC Paper No. FC119/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/F/1/2

Finance Committee of the Legislative Council

Minutes of the 12th meeting
held at the Legislative Council Chamber
on Friday, 15 January 1999, at 2:30 pm

Members present :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHAN Kam-lam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, 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 Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Dr Hon LUI Ming-wah, JP
Hon NG Leung-sing
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
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 HUI Cheung-ching
Hon Christine LOH
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon FUNG Chi-kin
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent :

Dr Hon David LI Kwok-po, JP
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, 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

Secretary for the Civil Service

Mr Stephen LAM, JP
Information Coordinator (Designate)

Mr Joshua LAW, JP
Private Secretary to Chief Executive

Regional Highway Engineer/Kowloon, Highways Department

Project Manager/Hong Kong Island and Islands Development Office of Territory Development Department

Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare

Mr Andrew LEUNG, JP
Director of Social Welfare

Assistant Director of Social Welfare

Miss Lilian FUNG
Senior Statistician, Social Welfare Department

Deputy Secretary for Works

Director of Civil Engineering

Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer, Civil Engineering Department

Principal Assistant Secretary for Works

Mr Adrian DAWES
Senior Environmental Protection Officer, Environmental Protection Department

Miss Sandy CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Housing

Business Director/Allocation and Marketing, Housing Department

Chief Housing Manager/Redevelopment, Housing Department

Mr Bernard CHAN Chief Estate Surveyor (Estate Management), Lands Department

Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

Mr LEE Yan-ming
Chief Traffic Engineer, Transport Department

Mr Patrick LAI Wai-hung Transport, Security and Central Services Manager,Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

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)60


Pursuant to a request by Miss Emily LAU at the Establishment Subcommittee (ESC) meeting, the Chairman advised that EC(98-99)15 be considered separately.

2. Paper FCR(98-99)60, except item EC(98-99)15, was put to vote and approved.

EC(98-99)15 Proposed -

(a)creation of one new rank and permanent post of Information Coordinator (D8) in the Chief Executive's Office to be offset by the deletion of one permanent post of Administrative Officer Staff Grade B (D3) in the Information Services Department; and

(b)the retitling of the existing post of Deputy Press Secretary to the Chief Executive (ranked at Assistant Director of Information Services (D2)) to Deputy Information Coordinator (Media Liaison) to enhance the transparency and openness of the Government

3. Members noted that the proposal had been discussed at length at the ESC and the joint Panel meeting of the Panels on Public Service and Home Affairs.

4. Mr Fred LI queried the justification for pitching the proposed Information Co-ordinator (IC) post at the D8 level instead of at a lower ranking at D4 or D6 as in the case of similar posts before the handover. Both Mr LI and Miss Emily LAU were not convinced that the importance and responsibilities of the IC post were comparable to those of a Bureau Secretary. Mr James TO stated his view that it was unacceptable in principle for the post of a spokesperson and that of a Bureau Secretary, which was similar to a minister, to be remunerated at the same level. To highlight the disparity, he pointed out that the management responsibilities of the Commissioner of Police, who was also remunerated at D8, far exceeded those of the IC.

5. In response, the Secretary for the Civil Service (SCS) advised that the ranking of a new post was determined with reference to the criteria drawn up by the Standing Committee on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service. These criteria included the importance, urgency and complexity of the decisions and judgment required to be made by the post-holder, as well as the calibre and leadership abilities required. Having regard to the role and spectrum of responsibilities of the proposed IC post which were far more important than those of similar posts before the handover, the Administration considered it appropriate to pitch the post at D8 level. The Standing Committee on Directorate Salaries and Conditions of Service, which was consulted in accordance with the normal procedures, also expressed support for the proposed grading and ranking of the IC post.

6. Referring to Mr LEE Wing-tat's concern that the salary of the IC compared much higher than those of similar posts in other countries, SCS reiterated that a strict comparison in terms of salary might not be appropriate due to differences in economic conditions and the structure of the civil service. He nevertheless added that the staffing support available to the IC was much smaller than that provided for spokesperson posts in western democratic countries.

7. Elaborating on the responsibilities of the proposed IC post as described in the discussion paper, SCS reiterated that the key responsibilities of the IC included strengthening communication between the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government and the public as well as formulating an effective public relations (PR) and media strategy, both being important elements for gaining public support for government policies. Although the job nature of the IC post was different from that of a Bureau Secretary in that it did not carry a designated policy portfolio, SCS stressed that the IC would be required to monitor major issues in all policy areas and in dealing with major unforeseen situations; he had to co-ordinate input from heads of Policy Bureaux and respond promptly to public concerns. The post should therefore be pitched at a sufficiently senior level to enable the post-holder to garner the necessary high-level support and perform his job effectively. SCS referred to posts such as the Head, Central Policy Unit and the Judiciary Administrator which were also without a policy and legislative portfolio but were also pitched at the D8 level on account of the importance of their work.

8. In reply to Dr YEUNG Sum's enquiry on the co-ordinating role to be performed by the IC, SCS explained that future working relationship between the IC and various policy bureaux would likely be an interactive one as the IC, being responsible for gauging the views of opinion-formers on policy issues and monitoring and analyzing the results of major public opinion polls, would provide his input in the process of policy formulation.

9. On communication between the Government and the public, Miss Emily LAU commented that there was better communication before the handover. She pointed out that it was far more important for the Chief Executive to be forthcoming in meeting the public and accounting for Government policies, than to create a high-ranking post to deal with PR work with taxpayers' money. Mr Martin LEE also added that the merits of the policy per se, rather than participation or otherwise of the IC in the policy process, would determine whether the policy would be supported. He concurred that greater openness and public appearances by the Chief Executive might be more effective in boosting public support for the Government.

10. In response, SCS assured members that the Chief Executive would continue to undertake an active and regular programme of public functions and the IC would oversee the planning and implementation of the programme on an on-going basis for the Chief Executive.

11. Miss Margaret NG stated that she would object to the proposal as it was a serious flaw for the Administration to attribute all policy blunders to a lack of effective communication and presentation. She considered that the creation of the IC post failed to address the fundamental problem of bad policy making. Mr Albert HO shared similar view and queried that in the longer run, the Administration might revise its PR strategy into a form of propagandist tactics to publicize its policies. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung was of the view that the merits of the policy in question was far more important than PR efforts which were mainly cosmetic. Mr SZETO Wah also pointed out that policy mistakes could not be concealed by good PR work.

12. Mr LEE Wing-tat was seriously concerned about performance indicators, if any, for assessing the performance of the IC and asked whether the popularity rating or greater openness on the part of the Chief Executive would be one of such indicators.

13. In reply, the IC(Designate) stressed that the key objective of the IC post was to enhance the transparency and openness of the Government. The ultimate measure of success would be whether or not Government policies could be well understood by the community at large. On Mr LEE Wing-tat's comment that such a yardstick was too abstract, IC(Designate) pointed out that quantitative data such as the number of media briefings would continue to be compiled. On the operational front, IC(Designate) advised that the Administration would seek greater media coverage on Government policies and would provide information to the media to help them prepare news reports.

14. Referring to the Administration's enhanced productivity programme (EPP), Mr LEE Cheuk-yan said that while the EPP was vigorously enforced among junior civil service staff, the Administration should achieve productivity gains by entrusting less senior directorate officer with responsibilities of a higher rank. It was therefore not necessary for pitching the IC post at D8. In response, SCS confirmed that in accordance with established civil service policies, a post would be remunerated at a level commensurate with its responsibilities and the Administration would not seek to pitch a post at a lower rank solely for the purpose of cost-saving. SCS added that most of the cost for creating the IC post had been offset by other savings and the additional annual provision required was only in the region of $600,000.

15. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong stated that Members of the Democratic Party (DP) would object to the proposal on the following grounds:

  1. the appointment of the IC was an arbitrary decision by the Chief Executive and a precedent of not following the spirit of the rule of law;

  2. the officer to be appointed to the post was announced prior to approval by the Finance Committee for the creation of the post; and

  3. the IC, being the spokesperson for the Chief Executive, was not subject to the nationality requirements applicable to principal officials of the SAR under the Basic Law.

16. Mr CHEUNG stressed that even some senior Government officials had expressed similar views, and he believed that members of the public would not be convinced of the need to create the IC post at such a high rank. His views were echoed by Mr James TO and Mr Albert HO. Mr HO was also concerned about the possible overlapping of duties between the Chief Secretary and the IC on improving co-ordination among the various policy secretaries.

17. SCS pointed out that the present proposal was endorsed at the ESC meeting by the majority of members present. He stressed that whether the creation of the IC post would be acceptable to the public at large should best be decided by the latter with regard to the performance of the IC in future.

18. In response to Miss Christine LOH's further query about the unusual arrangement of announcing the appointment of the post-holder prior to the creation of the post, SCS advised that as the Posting Board had decided on the appointment for the IC post in October 1998, the Administration considered it appropriate and timely to make early announcement so as to curb speculation. However, in the light of members' concerns expressed at the meetings of the ESC and joint Panels, he assured members that the exceptional arrangements adopted in the present case would by no means be regarded as a precedent.

19. Referring to her own experience, Miss Christine LOH said that the Chief Executive's Office did not reply to letters and she urged that this should be rectified. In reply, the Private Secretary to the Chief Executive clarified that replies were issued to all letters addressed to the Chief Executive including those sent by Miss LOH, although some of these replies were not signed by the Chief Executive personally. He confirmed that the Chief Executive's Office would always endeavour to provide replies as quickly as practicable.

20. Mr Bernard CHAN informed the meeting that he had made arrangements for members of his functional constituency to meet Mr Stephen LAM, IC(Designate), and feedbacks from his constituency were favourable. On his work plans and objectives, IC(Designate) recapitulated that the establishment of an IC post was a major step forward in enhancing the transparency and openness of the SAR Government, as confirmed by views he had received in the course of consultation with various opinion-formers on the future tasks of the IC post. IC(Designate) acknowledged that there was room for improvement in the Government's handling of PR and the dissemination of information over policy issues of public concern. He assured members that apart from doing his best, he would work closely with Bureau Secretaries and the Information Services Department in the new IC post.

21. Whilst indicating support for the proposal, Mr Andrew WONG was of the view that the IC post should not be ranked at D8 and he urged the Administration to seriously review the appropriateness of the said ranking. He considered that the unusual appointment arrangements adopted in the present case were inappropriate and should not set a precedent.

22. On behalf of Members of the Liberal Party (LP), Mrs Selina CHOW expressed support for the proposal. Members of the LP agreed that the IC's responsibilities as set out in the information paper were very important and thus pitching the post at the D8 level was justified. Mrs CHOW stressed that being underpinned by the IC, the Chief Executive should be more forthcoming and active in meeting the public. She further pointed out that if the IC performed his role well, greater openness and improved communication would result and these would be beneficial for Legislative Council Members, the media and the community at large.

23. The item was put to vote: 36 members voted for the proposal, 19 members voted against and none abstained.

Mr Kenneth TING Woo-shouMr James TIEN Pei-chun
Mr David CHU Yu-linMr HO Sai-chu
Mr Edward HO Sing-tinDr Raymond HO Chung-tai
Mr Eric LI Ka-cheungMr LEE Kai-ming
Dr LUI Ming-wahMr NG Leung-sing
Prof NG Ching-faiMrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee
Mr MA Fung-kwokMr HUI Cheung-ching
Mr CHAN Kwok-keungMiss CHAN Yuen-han
Mr Bernard CHANMr CHAN Wing-chan
Mr CHAN Kam-lamDr LEONG Che-hung
Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-funMr Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fatMr WONG Yung-kan
Mr Jasper TSANG Yok-singMr Howard YOUNG
Mr YEUNG Yiu-chungMr LAU Kong-wah
Mr LAU Wong-fatMrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee
Mr Ambrose LAU Hon-chuenMiss CHOY So-yuk
Mr Timothy FOK Tsun-tingMr TAM Yiu-chung
Mr FUNG Chi-kinDr TANG Siu-tong
(36 members)

Miss Cyd HO Sau-lanMr Albert HO Chun-yan
Mr Michael HO Mun-kaMr LEE Wing-tat
Mr LEE Cheuk-yanMr Martin LEE Chu-ming
Mr Fred LI Wah-mingMiss Margaret NG
Mr James TO Kun-sunMr CHEUNG Man-kwong
Miss Christine LOHMr LEUNG Yiu-chung
Mr SIN Chung-kaiDr YEUNG Sum
Mr LAU Chin-shekMiss Emily LAU Wai-hing
Mr Andrew CHENG Kar-fooMr SZETO Wah
Mr LAW Chi-kwong
(19 members)

24. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 2 - FCR(98-99)61


25. In view of queries from Mr Edward HO, the Chairman advised that Item PWSC(98-99)43 be considered separately.

26. Members also agreed that Item PWSC(98-99)50 be put to vote separately pursuant to the request of some members at the Public Works Subcommittee (PWSC) meeting on 2 December 1998.

27. The proposals under FCR(98-99)61, except Items PWSC(98-99)43 and PWSC(98-99)50, were approved by the Committee.

PWSC(98-99)43 125TB Pedestrian subway at the junction of
Kowloon Park Drive and Peking Road

28. Mr Edward HO referred to a similar item PWSC(98-99)36 which was voted down by the FC on 4 December 1998 and the subsequent briefing by the Administration at the joint Panel meeting on the revised methodology in estimation of consultancy fees. Noting that the present item would be undertaken by the same consultant for PWSC(98-99)36, Mr HO sought confirmation on whether the consultancy fees for present project would be based on scale fees pursuant to the existing consultancy agreement while those for future projects would be determined by competitive bidding. In reply, the Regional Highway Engineer/Kowloon, Highways Department confirmed in the affirmative.

29. Mr HO Sai-chu thanked the Administration for accepting the PWSC's suggestion to provide three traffic lanes for northbound traffic on Kowloon Park Drive by deleting the proposed landscape area.

30. The Committee approved the proposal.

PWSC(98-99)50 487CL Tung Chung development phase 3A, reclamation for areas 51, 52 (part) and 53 to 56

31. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 3 - FCR(98-99)62

‥ Subhead 179 Comprehensive social security assistance scheme
‥ Subhead 180 Social security allowance scheme

32. Referring to the increase in payment of special grants such as those for student-related expenses and rent as mentioned in the discussion paper, Mr Fred LI sought details on the amount of supplementary provision required to meet the increase in payment of special grants.

33. In reply, the Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (DS/H&W) advised that during the first nine months of 1998, the payment of special grants accounted for about 30% of the total payments made under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme. The Senior Statistician, Social Welfare Department (Sr Stat/SWD) further explained that the supplementary provision being sought was estimated on the basis of the overall increase in average payment per case, the increase in CSSA caseload and the number of recipients. It would be difficult to forecast the proportion of increase attributable to payment of special grants. Nevertheless, she agreed to provide information on the actual amount of special grants paid out in 1997-98 based on the sample study for the year.Admin.

34. Noting that the increases in the average size of CSSA households and in special grants together accounted for $532 million of the supplementary provision required, Mr Fred LI requested the Administration to provide a breakdown on the respective proportion which was attributable to the increase in the average size of CSSA households and the increase in payment of special grants. Sr Stat/SWD agreed to try the best to provide the forecast breakdown.Admin.

35. Elaborating on the major reasons for the additional provision being sought, the Director of Social Welfare (DSW) informed members that of the CSSA caseload, cases involving elderly and disabled persons had increased by 13.6% from December 1997 to December 1998 while cases involving unemployed persons, single parents and low income earners had registered an increase of 78.4%, 55.2% and 77.1% respectively during the same period. The number of recipients in the latter three categories also registered a 64% increase while the increase in the category of elderly and disabled persons was only 18.5%. On the family size of CSSA households, DSW pointed out that the increase in larger households comprising three family members or more accounted for about 40% of the overall increase in caseload.

36. At the request of Miss CHAN Yuen-han for a more detailed breakdown of the aforesaid figures, Sr Stat/SWD advised that as at December 1998, of the CSSA cases involving families of three members, 72% of the cases were in the categories of unemployed, single parents while elderly cases only accounted for 11%. For cases involving families of four, cases of unemployed and single parents made up 71% while elderly cases formed 4%. She undertook to confirm the information in writing and if possible, provide a further breakdown on the profile of the recipient households.Admin.

37. Whilst expressing support for the proposal on behalf of Members of the DP, Dr YEUNG Sum said that the substantial increase in CSSA cases and recipients should not be taken as a cause for alarm. Given the current unemployment situation, he considered it reasonable that a relatively large number of unemployed persons applied for CSSA.

38. In response to Miss Emily LAU's question on how far the increase in CSSA cases was due to "increased public awareness and changes in people's attitude towards CSSA" as stated in the paper, DSW explained that the annual increase in CSSA caseload had been in the region of 20% in 1992-93, only 4 or 5 persons out of 100 unemployed persons applied for CSSA, but in 1996-97, even at times of low unemployment, the number of unemployed persons applying for CSSA was on the increase. In 1998-99, the number of unemployed persons applying for CSSA had risen by 78%. He added that the number of single parents and low income earners applying for the payment had also registered an increase. These statistics, coupled with extensive publicity launched by SWD on the CSSA Scheme as a safety net for the needy, had demonstrated that there was greater awareness and acceptance of the Scheme on the part of the community.

39. DSW further clarified that he had never suggested that CSSA payment was a disincentive for people to make a living on their own. Nevertheless, he confirmed that he had made reference to the following information:

  1. under the current economic conditions, the entitlement of $11,000 a month under the CSSA Scheme for a family of four persons might compare more favourably with the earnings of a non-CSSA household;

  2. a three-month study had revealed that only 0.2% of the CSSA applicants had attended job interviews arranged by the Labour Department while the attendance of non-CSSA job applicants was 1.7%. The placement rate for non-CSSA job applicants was also higher; and

  3. the outcome of a trial scheme had shown that CSSA job applicants had a greater chance of getting employment if relevant support (such as retraining assistance) was provided to them.

40. Referring to the increase of 4.8% in the rates of standard payments under the CSSA and Social Security Allowance (SSA) Schemes to cater for inflationary adjustment, Mrs Selina CHOW pointed out that the increase in payment rates might be incongruent with the current economic situation where general inflation had given way to deflation. She asked whether the deflationary trend would be duly reflected in the rates payable.

41. In response, DSW explained that in accordance with the existing policy on CSSA and SSA, the Administration would revise the rates for standard payments under the two Schemes based on its forecast inflation adjustment at the commencement of each financial year. Supplementary provision would be sought from the FC to meet the shortfall in the actual outturn.

42. For background information, DS/H&W and the Assistant Director of Social Welfare pointed out that in its submissions to FC for approval of supplementary provisions, the Administration had included an explanation on the general established principle that if the forecast inflationary increase proved to be different from the actual increase, the difference (whether due to an over-estimate or under-estimate) should be taken into account in calculating the adjustment for the following year. In this regard, the forecast inflationary increase for 1997-98 was 6.5% while the actual increase was only 5.0%. Having balanced the interest of the CSSA/SSA recipients and the financial implications, the Administration had decided not to deduct the over-estimate of 1.5% from the forecast increase of 4.8% for 1998-99. Instead, the Administration had proposed to defer the next review and adjustment to the standard payments to take effect from 1 August 1999, instead of from 1 April 1999 as the said 4.8% was adequate to sustain the purchasing power of the existing allowances up to the end of July 1999. This proposal was duly noted by the FC on 3 April 1998.

43. Miss Emily LAU was concerned about the inconsistency arising from the policy considerations underlying the adjustment of CSSA/SSA allowances which apparently were not in line with the established principle for adjusting allowances for inflation. In response, the Deputy Secretary for the Treasury (DS/Tsy) stated that unlike revision to other forms of allowances which were usually made after the inflation rate was known, CSSA/SSA allowances were adjusted annually on the basis of a forecast inflationary increase. This would inevitably give rise to the problem of an over-estimate or under-estimate. While she fully acknowledged the concern that appropriate adjustments should be made to rectify the over- or under-estimate, she recalled that when Members considered the last revision to payment rates under the Schemes in March and April 1998, there was heated discussion and considerable concern about the welfare nature of the Schemes and the interest of the recipients. Hence, the Administration had, on balance, decided to reflect the over-estimate for 1997-98 in the following year's adjustment by extending the effective period for the 1998-99 rates to the end of July 1999. In this regard, Miss Emily LAU requested that relevant papers of past meetings be provided for members' information. Clerk

44. Miss CHAN Yuen-han, Chairman of the Welfare Services Panel, pointed out that Panel members and a number of deputations were gravely concerned about deferring the adjustment of CSSA and SSA allowances from April to August 1999 and said that the Panel would welcome early discussion with the Administration on its proposed rates of adjustment.

45. Noting members' concerns, DS/Tsy stated that if so requested by members, the Administration would be prepared to conduct its review on the rates of payment as soon as possible in consultation with the Welfare Services Panel. She nevertheless drew members' attention to the controversy likely to arise from a debate on the subject and added that the Administration's proposal might not tally with Miss CHAN's expectation.

46. Mr LAW Chi-kwong urged members to vote on the item as it stood and to consider policy issues related to future adjustment of CSSA/SSA allowances separately at the Panel. His view was echoed by Dr YEUNG Sum.

47. The proposal was put to vote and approved.

Item No. 4 - FCR(98-99)63
‥ Subhead 700 General other non-recurrent
Item 524 Consultancy service for developing an improved process in assessing slope stability

48. On the justifications for the proposed increase of $25 million in the approved commitment of the consultancy project, the Deputy Secretary for Works explained that there was an unexpectedly large number of landslides in the first two phases of the project conducted in 1997 and 1998. As the major feature of the project in question was the integrated assessment of landslides, increased landslide investigation works during the first two phases had led to unforeseen increases in project costs and hence, a need for additional funding.

49. The Principal Government Geotechnical Engineer, Civil Engineering Department (PGGE/CED) further pointed out that the integrated approach in slope stability assessment was a recommendation of the independent review by Professor N R Morganstern of CED's investigation into the Kwun Lung Lau landslide. The first two phases of the project had already made good progress in helping CED obtain a better understanding of the various types of slope failures that occurred in Hong Kong and in facilitating the identification of sites requiring out-of-turn investigations and follow-up actions. Past efforts might be wasted if the third phase of the project could not be taken forward owing to insufficient funds. PGGE/CED advised that the original estimate only targeted at assessing 200 to 300 landslide a year which was the average number in a normal year.

50. Whilst indicating support for the proposal, Dr Raymond HO remarked that the complexity of the sites under review in the present study might have an impact on the conduct of the consultancy project. In reply, PGGE/CED confirmed that if the sites were complex, a higher cost in ground investigation would be required.

51. Noting that the estimated increase of $25 million was calculated on the assumption that 1999 would see an average rainfall, Mr LEE Kai-ming enquired about contingency measures, if any, to cater for heavy rainfall to obviate the need for requesting further funding. In response, PGGE/CED said that in case of heavy rainfall, not all resultant landslides would be studied. Only those landslides which could shed light on slope stability problems in Hong Kong would be assessed.

52. Referring to paragraph 5 of the discussion paper which stated that the number of landslides could be over 800 in a very wet year, and paragraph 6 which reported that 550 landslides had been noted by CED in the wettest year of 1997, Miss Emily LAU questioned the accuracy of the data provided by the Administration. In clarification, PGGE/CED pointed out that apart from the total amount of rainfall, the distribution and the intensity of rainfall also affected the number of landslides. He added that past preventive works had also helped to reduce the number of landslides notwithstanding the heavy rainfall.

53. As to Mr NG Leung-sing's question on why the number of landslides had not stabilised despite years of slope rectification efforts, PGGE/CED explained that the Administration's works each year mainly covered 250 to 300 high-risk public slopes in view of the hazards they posed on public safety. Even when complemented by comparable rectification works on private slopes carried out by residents of the premises concerned, the number of rectified slopes only made up a small proportion of the some 54 000 man-made slopes on CED's slope catalogue. Nonetheless, PGGE/CED emphasised that rectification efforts had very effectively helped to reduce the consequence of landslides.

54. In reply to the Chairman, PGGE/CED confirmed that integrated assessment undertaken in the present project covered both private and public slopes and the relevant findings were placed in CED's library to which the public could have access.

55. Dr YEUNG Sum stated that Members of the DP supported the proposal as the consultancy project was a recommendation in Professor Morganstern's review report of CED's investigation into the Kwun Lung Lau landslide. In response to his enquiry on the timetable for the third phase of the project and how the Government planned to use the findings derived from the consultancy study, PGGE/CED advised that the third phase was scheduled to start in mid 1999 for completion in late 2000. The Administration would make references to the findings to develop better slope stability assessment processes and preventive measures.

56. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 5 - FCR(98-99)64

‥ Subhead 700 General other non-recurrent
New item "Monitoring of three new uncontaminated mud disposal sites at the seafloors south of Tsing Yi, north of Lantau and east of Tung Lung Chau"

57. Referring to possible adverse impact of uncontaminated mud disposal sites on the marine environment and the fishing industry, Mr Howard YOUNG asked whether the monitoring of existing sites had proved to be effective and whether the Administration had considered the present method of mud disposal viable in the light of operational experience. Mr Andrew WONG also expressed concern about the impact on the fishing industry and asked whether the industry had been consulted.

58. The PGGE/CED advised that bathymetric monitoring at the south of Cheung Chau and east of Ninepins were currently undertaken by the CED while the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) was responsible for water quality and ecological monitoring. The Senior Environmental Protection Officer, EPD confirmed that the monitoring had so far been effective. He advised that the environmental impact assessment studies had concluded that disposal of uncontaminated mud at the three sites in question would be environmentally acceptable. The consultant concerned had also recommended the adoption of suitable mitigation and operation programmes which would also be subject to monitoring under the present scheme.

59. In response to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's concern about the estimated cost of $11.1 million for water quality monitoring which formed a substantial proportion of the total estimated $29.2 million, PGGE/CED advised that the said amount was worked out with reference to similar costs under the existing contract. The said cost was considered reasonable since the monitoring, which entailed a lot of sampling and testing, would last for five years.

60. Regarding the feasibility of deploying in-house staff for undertaking the monitoring work, PGGE/CED pointed out that the bulk of the $29.2 million would be for engaging contractors with the necessary equipment not available in the department. Moreover, as the department lacked expertise in interpreting ecological field monitoring, independent consultants would therefore be hired.

61. In view of members' request for more detailed information which was not provided in the discussion paper, the Chairman advised that the proposal should be discussed at greater length at the relevant Panel(s). Members noted that all non-Panel members would be invited to take part in the Panel meeting to consider the item.XX

62. DS/Tsy withdrew the proposal.

Item No. 6 - FCR(98-99)65

‥ Subhead 600 Works
New item "Demolition of six Temporary Housing Areas"

63. In reply to Mr CHAN Kam-lam's enquiry on whether the 20% on-costs charged by the Housing Authority (HA) were reasonable, the Business Director/Allocation and Marketing, Housing Department advised that the 20% on-costs were charged pursuant to an agreement on financial arrangements between the HA and the Government for demolition work undertaken by the HA. He pointed out that the actual costs incurred by the HA for site management, tendering and project supervision etc. amounted to 27% of the total demolition cost which was above the 20% currently charged.

64. On whether demolition work could be taken up by the Lands Department (LD), the Chief Estate Surveyor (Estate Management), LD confirmed that at present, the LD would contract out the demolition work under its purview by way of tender. He further advised that although there was no clause in the earlier land allocation conditions which required the HA to carry out demolition work for the Government, a clause to this effect had been included in the current land allocation conditions under which the HA would be responsible for the demolition work.

65. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 7 - FCR(98-99)66

Transport Department
‥ New Subhead "Replacement of traffic light signal displays of Light Rail
Transit/road junction traffic control system in Tuen Mun and Yuen Long"

66. Noting that in 1997-98, there were 146 major faults with signal off and the total downtime was about 280 hours on all Light Rail Transit (LRT)/road junctions, Mrs Miriam LAU enquired whether the existing traffic light signal displays were particularly susceptible to wear and tear and what measures could be put in place in the interim to prevent traffic congestion and to ensure road safety pending the replacement of all the existing system. She pointed out that it was extremely important to have a reliable traffic control system and therefore questioned the Administration for not taking proactive steps to replace the existing system sooner.

67. In reply, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport (PAS/T) advised that the failure rate of the system in question was not particularly serious when compared to other systems. In anticipation of the expiry of the serviceable lifespan of the traffic light signal displays installed between 1988 and 1993, the Administration had put up the present funding request for the replacement project. As the replacement would be carried out by phases, he assured members that effective traffic management during the replacement period would still be maintained by appropriate traffic congestion mitigating and safety measures.

68. Addressing Mr TAM Yiu-chung's concern about whether consideration should be given to procure the necessary system from another supplier instead of the existing one, the Transport, Security and Central Services Manager, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department advised that the existing supplier was on the list of recognized suppliers whose bids would be considered along with other bidders. He further pointed out that the existing traffic light signal displays were by and large acceptable but the majority had to be replaced mainly because they had reached the end of their normal serviceable lifespan. The Chief Traffic Engineer, Transport Department confirmed that consideration would be given to purchasing the latest model of signal displays and associated components including pedestrian push-buttons.

69. Mr Albert HO enquired whether the Administration would take the opportunity to review the traffic control system for road junctions which had an interface with the LRT and if necessary, specify new design requirements in the tender. In reply, PAS/T assured members that the traffic control system at the LRT/road junctions was subject to on-going reviews by the Transport Department and there were other relevant traffic safety measures in place. He confirmed that in inviting tenders for the proposed replacement project, the Administration would review the overall design and functions of the traffic control system.

70. The Committee approved the proposal.

71. The Committee was adjourned at 5:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
May 1999