LC Paper No. AS 98/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref: AM 15/01/01 (IX)
Subcommittee onMembers Present :
Review of Operating Expenses for Members of the Legislative Council
Minutes of Meeting held on
Thursday, 17 September 1998 at 2:30 pm
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon NG Leung-sing
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon Chuen, JPMember Absent :
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Deputy Chairman)Public Officers Attending :
Ms Miranda CHIU
- Deputy Director of Administration
Mr Jacky LUM
- Assistant Director of Administration
|) For discussion
Mr LEE Chun-ho
|) of items
- Assistant Director/Commercial Properties,
|) II and III
- Housing Department
Mr CHAN Wing-cheong
- Chief Housing Manager/Commercial Properties,
- Housing Department
Clerk in attendance :
- Mrs Angela LEE
- Principal Assistant Secretary (Administration)
Staff in attendance :
- Mr Ricky FUNG
- Secretary General
- Mr Joseph KWONG
I. Confirmation of Minutes of the Last Meeting
Minutes of the meeting held on 29 July 1998 were confirmed.
II. Operating Expenses Reimbursement (OER) for Legislative Council Members
III. Allocation of Legislative Council Member's Offices in Public Housing Estates
2. As items II and III were directly related, members agreed that they should be considered together.
3. At the invitation of the Chairman, Ms Miranda Chiu and Mr Lee Chun-ho briefly introduced the operation of the office expenses reimbursement system and the letting policy in respect of office accommodation in public housing estates for LegCo Members. They said that the Administration welcomed members' views to facilitate a review of the existing arrangements.
Level of OER for Staff and Office Expenses
4. Members were advised that the existing level of OER was devised on the basis of a questionnaire survey conducted in 1993 concerning LegCo Members' staff and office expenses. In view of the findings and the varied pattern of expenditure amongst Members, it was then decided that Members should continue to be provided with a lump sum monthly expenses reimbursement for meeting staff and office expenses in a flexible manner. The level of OER had since been adjusted annually in October with reference to the Hang Seng Consumer Price Index. In determining the level of OER to be given, the Administration had applied in the calculation a notional staff cost equivalent to the sum of the mid-point salaries of an Executive Officer狢, a Personal Secretary II and a Clerical Officer II in the civil service. Ms瓱iranda Chiu said that the notional staff cost served merely as an indicator to provide a basis for calculation, and it had always been the Administration's view that Members should be allowed the flexibility in expending the OER having regard to their individual circumstances. In reply to the Chairman, Mr袠icky Fung said that the background to the calculation of staff and office expenses was described in paragraphs 3.11 - 3.14 of the Report of the Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Legislative Council published in 1994, in which no references were made to the size of constituencies.
5. Ms Miranda Chiu further advised that in considering the remuneration package for Members of the first LegCo, the Independent Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Executive Council and the Legislature of the HKSAR (the Independent Commission) had reaffirmed the principles that -
- LegCo membership was a form of service to the public;
- LegCo Members should be provided with a monthly allowance to meet expenses arising out of their LegCo duties; and
- LegCo Members should be personally accountable in respect of all their claims of expenses.
The Independent Commission also recognized the need for regular reviews of the reimbursement system, and had recommended that a review be carried out about a year before the second HKSAR LegCo so that candidates running for election had advance knowledge of the financial assistance available. Meanwhile, the Commission was prepared to consider any ad hoc requests to review any particular aspects of the remuneration system.
6. Miss Christine Loh said that the existing reimbursement system was outdated and the level of OER grossly insufficient to meet with the current needs of Members. She urged for a review of the system taking into account the functions of LegCo and the duties of Members. As she noticed, directly elected Members generally maintained at least two offices, one within Council premises in Central and one or two district offices within their constituencies. Whilst the central office supported Members in performing their major constitutional functions, i.e. legislating, controlling public expenditure and monitoring government policies, the district office(s) assisted Members in attending to district affairs, eg. receiving and handling complaints from local residents. In her view, a minimum of two staff members were needed to man a district office whilst one to two additional staff would be required to support the central office, of whom one should have the legal background to assist Members in performing their legislating function. The Administration should take into consideration the different type of staffing support required by the central and district offices in determining the level of OER for Members.
7. Citing his own experience as a Member returned from a functional constituency with a relatively smaller electorate, Mr泎ernard Chan said that he found the existing level of OER barely sufficient to meet the required expenses. He could understand the financial constraints faced by directly elected Members coming from a constituency covering vast geographical areas with a million or more people. Mr贌oward Young echoed that similar problems were faced by independent Members who could not benefit from the pooling of resources enjoyed by their counterparts who had party/group affiliations.
8. Supporting a review and relaxation of the Housing Authority (HA)'s office allocation policy, Mr硓red Li said that the level of OER, including the provision for reimbursement of district office and setting up expenses, should also be raised to take into account the increase in rent and additional staffing support required.
9. Members generally agreed with Miss Christine Loh that at least two staff members were required to support one district office. There were, however, different views on the level of the supporting staff. Mr Fred Li suggested that this should be left to the decision of the Member concerned.
Setting Up Expenses
10. Miss Christine Loh said that the amount of setting up expenses was insufficient in meeting expenses for fitting out and buying the necessary office equipment, e.g. computer hardware and software items, at the same time. To maintain office efficiency, Members should be provided with annual recurrent funds to upgrade their office equipment on a regular basis.
11. In reply to Mr Fred Li, Mr Joseph Kwong explained that a re-elected Member might claim up to 50% of the setting up expenses reimbursement for the purposes of renovation and purchase of additional equipment and furniture for his/her district office which he/she had set up in the previous LegCo term.
Entertainment and Travelling Expenses
12. Members supported Miss Christine Loh's suggestion that Members be allowed to use the entertainment and travelling expenses component of the monthly OER ($14,060) to meet staff expenses. Noting that this might generate calls for flexibility in the use of the staff and office expenses component of $84,380 on entertainment, some members suggested that one possible option was to set a limit on the amount of such cross subsidy.
Allocation of Members' Offices in Public Housing Estates
13. Mr Lee Chun-ho explained that the existing letting policy was last reviewed in 1994, which allowed each LegCo Member to lease two offices up to a total area of 70 M2. The area of 35M2 per office was then set because it was the most common size of ground floor units available. With many different models of public housing estates, public housing units actually came in different sizes, ranging from 19 M2 to 65 M2. Flexibility had always been exercised in applying the standard.
14. Members generally considered the standard of 35 M2 per office acceptable but the limit of two offices per Member too restrictive. Referring to her constituency, i.e. New Territories East, which covered an extensive area and a population of 1.37 million, Miss Cyd Ho said that she would need at least three district offices to support her local liaison work. Fred Li further suggested that the letting policy be relaxed so that each LegCo Member be allowed to lease a maximum of four offices up to a total area of 140 M2. Whilst supporting a relaxation of the letting policy, Mr Howard Young and Mr Ng Leung-sing said that they preferred adopting a gradual approach. Under the present economic climate, they did not wish to give an impression to members of the public that Members were seeking a substantial increase of OER to finance their office operation.
15. In response to Mr Wong Yung-kan's suggestion that the space entitlement might tie in with the number of administrative districts within a Member's constituency, i.e. a Member be allowed to set up one district office in each of the administrative districts within his/her constituency, members generally considered it not very practicable. Some members pointed out that the number of administrative districts amongst different constituencies varied from two to five, and that the criteria could hardly be applied in respect of Members elected from functional constituencies and election committee. Moreover, it was also against the principle that all Members should be accorded equal treatment irrespective of the channels through which they were elected.
16. After some discussion, it was generally suggested that each LegCo Member be allowed to lease a maximum of four offices up to a total floor area of 140M2. Mr猂ee Chun-ho said that the Subcommittee's proposal would be studied by Housing Department and forwarded to HA's Commercial Properties Committee for consideration if necessary.
17. In response to members' concern on whether there would be sufficient public housing units for allocation to Members if the space entitlement was relaxed as proposed in paragraph 16 above, Mr Lee Chun-ho said that it should not be a problem, bearing in mind that there were some 160 public housing estates throughout the territory. He revealed that problems generally occurred in the selection of sites as some units are more convenient and easily accessible than others. In reply to Miss蟖yd Ho, Mr Lee said that it was the HA's policy to allocate housing units to prospective tenants on a first-come-first-served basis.
18. Ms Miranda Chiu thanked members for their view and suggestions. She undertook to revert to the Subcommittee before finalizing proposals for submission to the Independent Commission for consideration. Members urged the Administration to complete the review as soon as possible.
[The government officials left the meeting after the discussion.]
IV. Name of the Subcommittee
19. Members agreed that the name of the Subcommittee should be changed to "Subcommittee on Review of Operating Expenses for Members of the Legislative Council". As regards the term "reimbursement", it should be translated as
20. The meeting ended at 4:05 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat