on 25 January 1999
Legislative Council Panel on Welfare Services
Hong Kong War Memorial Pensions Ordinance
This paper informs Members of the proposal to amend the Hong Kong War Memorial Pensions Ordinance (the Ordinance) to include former members of the Hong Kong Independent Battalion of the Dongjiang Column (the Independent Battalion) as potential beneficiaries of pension benefits under the Ordinance.
The Independent Battalion
2. The Independent Battalion was a guerrilla unit operating in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation. According to the Association of Former Members of the Independent Battalion, the Battalion was formed in February 1942 in Sai Kung, pursuant to a decision made in 1941 by a southern front working committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Its mission was to fight Japanese forces occupying Hong Kong.
3. The Association now comprises approximately 400 veterans, half of whom live in Hong Kong, and half on the Mainland. The Association has indicated that around 1,000 people enlisted in the Independent Battalion during the War.
4. The Association has compiled a list of 115 members who were killed in action during the War. In 1998, the Administration decided to include the names of these 115 members in the Roll of Honour kept in the Memorial Shrine at the City Hall. A formal ceremony was held on 28 October 1998 to commemorate the inclusion of these names into the Roll of Honour.
5. The Association has recently requested that their members become eligible for benefits similar to those currently provided for qualified members of service units specified in the Schedule to the Hong Kong War Memorial Pensions Ordinance. In addition to pension benefits, local beneficiaries are entitled to receive free medical treatment at Government out-patient clinics and certain HA hospitals. Beneficiaries may also receive in-patient service in HA hospitals and be charged at reduced rates.
The Policy on Pension Benefits
6. For many years, it has been the Government's policy to provide pension and medical benefits to those who contributed to and suffered, in the defence of Hong Kong during the Second World War. As we have accepted the role of the Independent Battalion during this period and recognised their military activities in Hong Kong, we believe that the members of the Independent Battalion should be accorded the same treatment as other veterans under the existing scheme and subject to the same eligibility criteria.
7. To allow members of this group to apply for pension benefits, we propose to include the Independent Battalion in the Schedule to the Ordinance. Under section 7 of the Ordinance, a member (or his spouse) of the service units specified in the Schedule (Annex) is eligible for pension benefits if the member sustained injury, was killed in action, or captured between 7 and 25 December 1941. As the Independent Battalion was only formed in January 1942, section 7 will need to be amended to cover the period of the Battalion's activities between January 1942 and September 1945. It is therefore important to note that service in the relevant units alone is not sufficient grounds for the award of a pension.
8. We propose that -
- the Independent Battalion should be included in the Ordinance so as to enable its former members to be eligible for pension benefits;
- applications from former members of the Independent Battalion should be assessed on the same basis and using the same criteria as are applied to veterans of the other units specified in the Schedule to the Ordinance. All evidence submitted will be considered but the standard of proof must be consistent with that required for other individuals;
- administration of the Ordinance should remain unchanged, i.e. the War Memorial Pensions Advisory Committee should consider applications for pension benefits under the Ordinance and submit recommendations to the Secretary for Health and Welfare. In line with current practice, the War Memorial Pensions Appeal Board will hear appeals lodged against the Secretary for Health and Welfare's decision.
9. The Hong Kong War Memorial Pensions Advisory Committee has been consulted and supports the proposal.
THE WAY FORWARD
10. A Bill to amend the Ordinance is under preparation. Subject to the approval of the Chief Executive in Council, we intend to introduce the Bill into the Legislative Council in March 1999.
Health and Welfare Bureau