LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 5/96-97
[These minutes have been seen
by the Administration]
Ref: CB2/PL/WS

LegCo Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 14 June 1996 at 10:45 a.m. in the Legislative Council Chamber

Members Present :
    Hon LI Wah-ming (Chairman)
    Hon Albert CHAN Wai-yip
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, OBE, JP
    Hon CHAN Yuen-han
    Dr Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Members Absent
    Hon David CHU Yu-lin (Deputy Chairman)*
    Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee*
    Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong#
    Hon LEE Cheuk-yan#
    Hon LEE Kai-ming#
    Hon Zachary WONG Wai-yin#

Public Officers Attending:
For Item III

Health and Welfare Branch

    Mr Daniel SIN
    Principal Assistant Secretary (Acting)
    Social Welfare Department
    Director of Social Welfare
    Mr P W WONG
    Assistant Director (Subventions)
    Mr LEE Wing-wai
    Chief Social Work Officer (Consultancy Service/Subventions)
    Mr Nigel KNIGHT
    Project Director
    Mr Phil MADDEN
    Project Manager
For Item IV
Health and Welfare Branch
    Mr Y C CHENG
    Principal Assistant Secretary
    Social Welfare Department
    Mrs Patricia CHU
    Assistant Director (Family & Child Welfare)
Attendance by Invitation:
Hong Kong Council of Social Service

    Ms Kay KU, JP
    Mr Michael LAI Kam Cheung, JP
    Ms Joyce CHANG Sau Han, JP
    Miss Deborah WAN, JP
Hong Kong Social Workers Association
    Mrs Justina LEUNG
    Mr CHUA Hoi Wai
    Mr LAI Wing Hoi, Frederick
    Mr YUON Fuk Lung, Eric
Alliance on Concern for Social Welfare Service Development

    CHOI Shing Kiu
    LEUNG King Man
    WONG Sau Mei
    YU Chi Ming
    CHENG Ching Fat
Staff in Attendance:
    Ms Doris CHAN Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4
    Mr Alfred CHAU Senior Assistant Secretary (2)4

I. Items for discussion at the next meeting scheduled for 12 July 1996

1. In addition to the meeting scheduled for 12 July 1996, the Chairman proposed and members agreed to have another meeting on 15 July 1996. The following items were suggested for those two meetings:

  1. Follow-up on Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project;
  2. Integrated teams for children and youth services;
  3. Application procedures for Lotteries Fund for fitting out welfare premises;
  4. Senior Citizens’ Card Scheme;
  5. Follow-up on School Social Work; and
  6. Comprehensive Social Security Assistance.

II. Consultancy Review of the Social Welfare Subvention System

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(2) 1599/95-96, 1604/95-96 and paper tabled)

2.Mr Nigel KNIGHT briefed the Panel on the aims and the time scale of the review, and stressed that most of the outputs of the review represented a joint contribution of the Social Welfare Department (SWD), the welfare sectors and the consultants. Mr Phil MADDEN highlighted the service quality standards and the assessment process and the role/responsibilities of SWO and NGOs in the context of the funding and service agreement. He also detailed the principles of the Unit Grant, the features, the implementation phases, the benefits and the concerns. In summing up the presentation, Mr KNIGHT expected to collect sector’s responses to the questionnaire survey on the recommendation by early August 1996. A decision on the way forward would then be made by the Administration.

3.Mr Michael LAI Kam-cheung stated that Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) agreed that a review was needed, but emphasized that government’s financial commitment should not decrease. He pointed out that subvention should aim at providing quality service. In order to improve staff quality and to retain experienced staff, service terms should not be harmed. Whilst the new system should be more streamlined and flexible, the average personal emolument approach was oversimplified and might bring undesirable effects to non-government organizations (NGOs). HKCSS hoped to discuss the proposals with SWD to find a solution.

4.Mrs Justina LEUNG of the Hong Kong Social Workers Association (HKSWA) agreed with the spirit of providing quality social services proposed in the review, and suggested the Administration to work out the resources, management information system and training, before implementation. She also pointed out that the average personal emolument approach might induce staff turnover which was unfair to experienced staff and would affect the quality of social service.

5.Mr CHOY Shing-kui of the Alliance on Concern for Social Welfare Service Development (ACSWSD) supported the quality service aspect of the review, but opined that the Unit Grant might bring negative impact on both staff and the management of many NGOs. More than five thousand signatures of members of ACSWSD opposing the Unit Grant in the review had been collected and were submitted to the Administration and the Chairman. Mr LEUNG King Man reiterated the stance of ACSWSD and analysed the shortcomings of the review. Miss WONG Siu-mei summarized the requests of ACSWSD which included four-month consultation with the public and setting up on independent working group to review the matter.

6. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong suggested that SWD should experiment with the Unit Grant for six years, and have a review before implementing the system in NGOs. In reply to the suggestion to extend the consultation period, Mr STRACHAN pointed out that it had been extended to 2 August 1996 at the request of NGOs, and SWD would study the responses of NGOs before implementation. Mr CHEUNG observed that the remuneration package of social workers in NGOs was less favourable than that of their counterparts in the government sector and with the Unit Grant, NGOs might find the average approach a handicap to their operations. He envisaged that the remunerations package of social workers in NGOs would lag further behind of that of their counterparts in the government sector. Mr STRACHAN replied that the proposal allowed all vacant posts to be filled in three years in the light of an average vacancy rate of about 6.4% and provided flexibility in the entry requirements of candidates in filling vacant posts. He added that there was provision for increments and for cost of living increases within the Unit Grant and SWD planned to assist those NGOs which might face problems under the proposed subvention system. On the vacancy rate, the Chairman asked the Administration to provide a breakdown of the composition and the proportion of vacant posts.

7. Mr LEE Cheuk-yan asked whether SWD intended to introduce cost control as practised in the commercial sector which would result in suppressing the morale of staff and lowering the quality of social service. In reply, Mr STRACHAN stressed that there was no hidden agenda to cut costs and it was hoped that NGOs would spend the fundings in a more efficient manner. He referred to the paper tabled which provided answers to the queries and concerns of the deputations. He reiterated that SWD would continue to expand social welfare services. Mr LEE clarified his concerns that he referred to cost control by which the growth of costs might be maintained at a predetermined level over a period of time and thus affecting the quality and scope of social welfare services. Mr STRACHAN disagreed and emphasized that the objective was to provide a simpler funding system to NGOs to meet their needs for quality social services.Adm

8. Dr YEUNG Sum raised the following objections to the proposal:-

  1. The average approach in the proposal which did not consider the needs of large and long established NGOs. Those NGOs might face a considerable reduction in their fundings which could jeopardise their operations; and
  2. The widening disparity between the remuneration packages of social workers in NGOs and in the government sector.

9.He requested the Administration to negotiate with NGOs, such as the deputations and to work out a solution which would maintain the advantages of the existing system and meet the needs of NGOs. Furthermore, he urged the Administration to keep an open mind and to listen to the views of social workers at managerial and operational levels of NGOs, in addition to the boards of directors. In response, Mr STRACHAN reassured the Panel that dialogues with social services sector would continue and to solicit their views, questionnaires on the review had been distributed to NGOs for them to reflect the views of their boards, the management and their operational staff. As regards the remuneration package, the Unit Grant would take into account cost of living adjustment and annual increments.

10.Dr YEUNG Sum worried that in the long run, the amounts of fundings to NGOs through the Unit Grant would be affected, and asked the Administration to estimate the number of NGOs with reduced fundings. Mr STRACHAN said that the Unit Grant would not reduce the level of funding for the sector and the Administration would continue to monitor the implementation of the new system to ensure sufficient funds would be provided for the NGOs to run the subvented social welfare services. He could not give an estimate for Dr YEUNG because it was a changing situation and the fundings of NGOs would vary at the end of the third year after implementation due to the filling of vacant posts and staff turnover.

11.Dr LAW Chi-kwong commented that the Unit Grant would provide an overall increase in the amount without considering the performance of individual officers. He pointed out that the positions of NGOs at the present time would not be different from those in three years except for the vacant posts. He raised the following three questions:-

  1. What resources would be needed to implement the 19 standards and 79 criteria as quoted in the review?,
  2. Why did the review tend to penalize small and flexible NGOs with experienced staff and low turnover rate? and
  3. Why did the review not focus on improving the existing system?

12.Mr STRACHAN explained that for the first three years of the implementation of the proposals, actual salaries and increments of individual officers would continue to be funded. The amount of Unit Grant for NGOs would be increased due to the filling of vacant posts and additional resources for increased social welfare services. As regards performance measures, Mr Nigel KNIGHT added that the standards and criteria for quality would be incorporated into existing processes. For small NGOs with experienced staff and low turnover rate, Mr KNIGHT agreed to study the extent of the issue. One of reasons for introducing the Unit Grant was to change NGOs to autonomous bodies enjoying less input control from the government.

13. Miss CHAN Yuen-han enquired whether the relationship between the Administration and NGOs would change upon implementing the proposals and whether the Administration encouraged responses from the social welfare sector only. Mr STRACHAN said that the relationship between SWD and NGOs would not change and a clearly defined relationship would emerge to improve the quality of social welfare services. He also welcomed dialogues between SWD and interested parties on the review. Miss CHAN opined that implementing the proposals would lead to changes in the relationship between SWD and NGOs, and those changes were also observed by the consultants. She wondered why the Administration insisted on its stance that there would be no change in the relationship. Mr STRACHAN disagreed with her remarks and did not believe that the quality of social services would be affected. Funding and Services Agreements would be established to maintain minimum requirements including professional quality standards and performance measures in the provision of quality services.

14. Mr Eric LI Ka-cheung declared his interests as Chairman of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee and Member of HKCSS and some NGOs. He asked the consultants whether it was correct to interpret that by adopting a free market economy approach in the review, the boards of directors of NGOs enjoyed high autonomy in utilizing resources and could attain better cost-effectiveness through competition. If his interpretation was correct, he wondered whether introducing competition through a free market economy approach to the social welfare sector would be appropriate in Hong Kong. He also wondered whether constructive competition would result if equivalent resources were provided. Recognising the merits of the present competitive environment on providing quality services, he doubted whether a shift to allocate equivalent resources would produce desirable quality services by NGOs which were constrained by service locations and areas. He would like the consultants to consider those points. Mr KNIGHT denied that a free market economy approach or similar approaches were the backbone of the proposals. The recommendations were built on international experience and reflected the views of professional social workers and the social welfare practitioners for more freedom and autonomy. He believed that accountability and responsibility would increase and that better services to clients would result. In his view, he would suggest assisting the boards of directors through training and other activities to improve their governance. He pointed out that the aim of the review was not to introduce a competitive environment for NGOs but to encourage them to improve and excel their services.

15. In response to Mr LI’s questions on the mechanisms to improve efficiency of NGOs, Mr KNIGHT explained that two mechanisms were incorporated in the proposals. The first one was the framework of quality through which NGOs acquired a clear picture of quality requirements and performance measurements. When the issues on quality were clarified, NGOs could concentrate on them and thus improve their efficiency. The second mechanism was the delegation of power to NGOs which would enjoy the freedom and flexibility to manage their resources. In the proposals, major restrictions from the Administration on resources allocation would be removed. It was hoped that NGOs could improve their efficiency in this respect.

16.Mr James TIEN Pei-chun declared his interest as Chairman of the Advisory Board, Yan Chai Hospital, and urged the Administration to consider the concerns of members of the Panel. He understood that the majority of boards of directors of NGOs were not professionals in the area of social welfare and took up their positions on a voluntary basis. He recognised that there was a drastic change in the proposals to ask boards of directors to manage NGOs and pointed out that as volunteers they might not be able to spare so much time for such management role. He urged the Administration to hold joint meetings with the boards of directors and staff of NGOs in order to attain the objectives.

17. Dr John TSE Wing-ling asked the Administration whether on implementing the Unit Grant, it would encourage NGOs to dismiss staff at a higher salary point in favour of those at a lower salary point. Mr STRACHAN referred to his paper tabled and said that there would be a continued need for experienced staff in the system. The Unit Grant would include remuneration packages for experience staff. Dr TSE envisaged that some NGOs might receive less funding under the Unit Grant, and enquired if some NGOs would be squeezed out of business. Mr STRACHAN replied that no NGOs would be sacrificed. As social welfare services continued to expand in the years to come, there were plenty of opportunities for NGOs to deploy their resources flexibly.

18. The Chairman concluded the discussion by pointing out that as different parties had voiced their strong views and concerns through various channels, it reflected that they found parts of the Review not acceptable. He therefore requested DSW to consider the concerns and views of the welfare sector and to work out satisfactory solutions to address their concerns. The Chairman also urged the Administration to further extend the consultation period as July/August was a busy period for social workers.

III. Proposals for new social welfare policy and services for new immigrants from China

19.Dr LAW Chi-kwong briefed members on the three recommendations in his information paper including Case Management services by NGOs, more resources to NGOs to develop volunteer families, and better coordination of existing services.Adm

20. Mrs Patricia CHU described the services provided by International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS) with the collaboration of Immigration Department, including a 20-minute video to advise new immigrants from China (NI) of the basic information about Hong Kong and the services available to them. Not all NI were in need of welfare services. However, those who were in need would be encouraged to come forward voluntarily to seek assistance. SWD was constantly reviewing the services rendered to NI and would be seeking additional resources for post-migration service for NI in the coming year. SWD would continue to work closely with other government departments and ISS in providing services to NI.

21. Dr LAW criticized that the existing services by ISS focused mainly on the provision of information to NI and commented it could not really help NI families. He suggested to conduct interviews with NI families and to provide services subsequently. The existing manpower of two persons from ISS to offer services to NI was not enough. Dr LAW requested SWD to strengthen the services to NI and their families. In reply, Mrs Patricia CHU elaborated again the services provided by ISS and the Immigration Department. She also added that post-migration service rendered by ISS was to provide a first point of contact for NI upon their arrival in Hong Kong, with the aim to help them to integrate into the local community and to refer to the NIs for service where necessary. NIs were entitled to all other services just like any other local Hong Kong residents. To assess and monitor the provision of various social services for NIs, the HAD was taking up a co-ordinating role within the administration.

22. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong pointed out that of the age group between 24 to 44, about 75% of NI were women, and the problems facing those female NI, most of them joining their husbands and children, included the following: -

  1. Their lives in Hong Kong did not match their expectations;
  2. Job security of their husbands, problems of education for their children, and other problems brought additional worries to their families; and
  3. They had few acquaintances in Hong Kong from whom they could seek support.

He asked the Administration to explain how those problems could be solved.

23.Miss CHAN Yuen-han indicated that the services provided by ISS did not tackle the problems facing NI, and there were insufficient services for NI at the community level. Moreover, HAD did not take a proactive approach in the provision of existing services. She stressed that promotion of and education of NI on services available to them were very important, and asked the Administration to describe what measures were taken to tackle the problems of NI, particularly those related to education, women, and employment.

24.In reply, Mrs Patricia CHU commented that while existing services were sufficient to cater for the needs of NI, it was necessary to strengthen the promotion of social services to NI so that they would seek assistance as early as possible. She mentioned that HAD had distributed a handbook containing important information for NI. At the district level coordination of activities between the Administration and NGOs was underway.

25.Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong posed questions to the Administration as follows:

  1. Would adaptation classes be arranged for female NI similar to adaptation classes which were available to help children in schools?
  2. Families of NI needed help and would benefit from volunteers. Were volunteers available in this respect?
  3. An NLCDP organised NI successfully in the Nam Cheong Community to help themselves. Unfortunately the NLCDP Team would be disbanded. Would NI be organised to help themselves?

26.In reply, Mrs Patricia CHU stated that one of the services by ISS was to offer adaptation classes for NI, (female included), and services by NGOs to organize NI to help themselves were in progress in different communities. She stressed that it was important to integrate NI into society and the Administration would continue to encourage NGOs to do more.

27.Dr YEUNG Sum understood from the discussions that NI were facing difficulties of integrating into society and was not satisfied with the answers from the Administration which seemed to suggest that sufficient services were provided. He requested the Administration to furnish the Panel with a detailed and consolidated report on the services for NI provided by various government departments including difficulties encountered and future plans to help NI. In response, Mr Y C CHENG said that at the district level, district officers of HAD would be taking up the co-ordinating role, while a central steering committee under HAD was formed to coordinate and monitor the services. He understood that Dr LAW Chi-kwong’s paper was also submitted to the central committee which would report to the LegCo upon request. The Chairman proposed and members agreed that the issue should be followed up by the Home Affairs Panel.

The meeting ended at 1:05 p.m.Clerk

LegCo Secretariat
2 October 1996
* -- Other Commitments
#--away from Hong Kong

Last Updated on 24 August 1998