Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)830
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of Meeting held on Monday, 15 December 1997 at 10:45 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP (Chairman)
Hon LO Suk-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho

Members Absent :

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon LAU Wong-fat, JP
Hon NGAN Kam-chuen

Public Officers Attending :

Item II

Mr Augustine CHENG
Deputy Director of Home Affairs (2)

Mr Francis LO
Acting Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Miss Angela LUK
Assistant Director of Home Affairs

Item III

Deputy Director of Home Affairs (1)

Mr Francis LO
Acting Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Item IV

Deputy Director of Home Affairs (1)

Mr Francis LO
Acting Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr HUI Siu-wai
Chief Building Surveyor
Buildings Department

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Raymond LAM
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I.Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)722)

The minutes of the meeting held on 17 November 1997 were confirmed.

2.Members noted that the Administration had provided further information on " intermediary body for the collection and enforcement of maintenance payments' (PLC Paper No. CB(2)676).

II.Review of Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance (HAGAO)
[Paper No. CB(2)720(01)]

3.At the invitation of the Chairman, Acting Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs (DSHA (Ag)) and Deputy Director of Home Affairs (2) (DDHA(2)) highlighted the salient points in the Administration's paper. They informed members that there were five guesthouses in Hamilton Mansion. Two guesthouses which had received injunction issued by the Lands Tribunal (LT) for non-compliance with the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC) of the building had ceased business and their licences would be revoked. The Administration had served notices of intention not to renew the licences on the remaining three guesthouses in Hamilton Mansion.

4.A member questioned the safety of licensed guesthouses and pointed out that some guesthouses were reported to have modified room sizes after a licence had been issued. DDHA (2) assured members that inspections were always carried out before licence renewal which would only be granted after the guesthouse had satisfied all safety and licensing requirements of the Licensing Authority (LA). The Chairman said that even if a guesthouse met the safety requirements under the HAGAO, the resulting large number of visitors entering and leaving the building might lead to building security problems, posing a threat to the personal safety of other residents of the building.

5.A member suggested the LA to follow the practice for renewal of liquor licences, where the licensing authority would consult the owners' corporation (OC) concerned before a licence was renewed. DDHA (2) said that unlike the Liquor Licensing Board, LA only comprised government representatives. He agreed to examine the possibility of following the liquor licensing scheme, but added that there were basic differences between the two licensing schemes.

6.Referring to paragraph 8 of the Administration's paper, a member was dissatisfied with the Administration's explanation that it was inappropriate for LA to revoke licences under HAGAO based on its own non-judicial interpretation of the terms and conditions of a private contract. He pointed out that under the Lands Department's consent scheme for pre-sale of uncompleted buildings, approval by the Administration was given on the condition that the DMC complied with the guidelines of Legal Advisory and Conveyancing Office (LACO). The Administration should have the discretionary power to impose similar requirements for guesthouse licences. DDHA(2) explained that the LACO guidelines only set out the basic provisions required in a DMC. Other provisions could be incorporated in a DMC as long as they were not against the law.

7.In response to a member, DSHA (Ag) said that according to legal advice, HAGAO did not contain any express provision that compliance with DMC of a building was a requirement for granting a guesthouse licence. Moreover, the provisions of some DMCs were vague in that there was no explicit provision against guesthouse operation, although there were provisions restricting certain commercial activities.

8.The Chairman pointed out that if the Administration regarded DMC as a legal document, then a licence should not be issued to a guesthouse which contravened the provisions of the DMC of a building. Licensing a guesthouse which was in contravention of the DMC of a building would make it even more difficult for OCs to enforce their DMCs. DDHA(2) assured members that DMC was a legal document. However, DMC was a private contract among the owners of a building and it was inappropriate for the Administration to enforce private contracts to which it was not a party. Where the operation of a guesthouse was considered in contravention of a DMC, an OC or owners of a building could bring the case to LT which was empowered under section 45 of the Building Management Ordinance (BMO) to hear and determine proceedings relating to DMCs. He added that a licensed guesthouse was still required to comply with other laws of Hong Kong.

9.Referring to paragraph 9 of the Administration's paper, a member questioned the Administration's statement that revoking the licences of a significant number of guesthouses would have an adverse impact on Hong Kong's tourist industry. He suggested the tourist industry be consulted on the issue. Another member commented that some guesthouses were reported to be related to vice activities and therefore not really contributing to the tourist industry of Hong Kong. DDHA(2) responded that there was certainly demand for cheaper accommodation such as guesthouses which were rather popular among the younger generation of overseas visitors and overseas students.

10.Members generally considered that as some OCs were inactive and some buildings even have no OCs, it would be difficult for the owners of these buildings to enforce their DMCs. They suggested that the Administration should review its licensing policy for guesthouses and consider making compliance with the DMC of a building a licensing requirement. Where necessary, legislative amendment should be made to HAGAO.

11.A member also suggested that the Administration should ask guesthouse licence applicants to prove that their guesthouse operations were in compliance with the DMC of a building. He added that the Administration should establish a committee, comprising PLC Members, to review the licensing policy for guesthouses. The Administration noted these comments.

III.Responsibilities and liabilities of owners' corporations in the management of buildings
[Paper Nos. CB(2)720(02) and CB(2)720(03)]

12.At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Director of Home Affairs (1) (DDHA(1)) presented the Administration's paper. He clarified that, even upon the dissolution of an OC, the owners of a building were still liable, jointly and severally, to the debts and liabilities associated with the building. He explained that the role of Home Affairs Department (HAD) was only to assist the formation of OCs and advise them on building management matters. He envisaged that the proposed sale of public rental flats would lead to more demands for assistance in the formation of OCs in the coming years. In this connection, HAD would collaborate with the Housing Department to step up their services to the new OCs.

13.As regards assisting and educating OCs in building management, DDHA(1) informed members that HAD had an on-going programme to promote good building management. Seminars, talks and training courses were organized in the districts. A series of educational video tapes on building management, maintenance and insurance had been produced for loan to OCs and interested members of the public. A Building Management Resource Centre (BMRC) would be established in May 1998 to provide a wide range of services, including free preliminary professional advice from lawyers, accountants, surveyors and property managers. Some other government departments had also expressed interest in participating in the work of the BMRC. In the longer term, the Administration hoped to establish seven to eight BMRCs throughout the territory. On the distribution of the educational booklets on building management, a member suggested that the Administration should take the initiative to send the booklet to all newly formed OCs for reference. DDHA(1) agreed to consider the suggestion.

14.A member considered that BMO should be amended to make it compulsory for owners of buildings to take out public liability insurance for their buildings. DDHA(1) agreed to consider the suggestion. DSHA (Ag) added that in the Administration's publicity materials, owners of a building had been reminded of their responsibilities to take out all necessary insurance such as fire insurance. He doubted whether public liability insurance should be made compulsory under BMO, because the conditions of buildings and the circumstances of owners were different from one another. He considered therefore owners should take out insurance as necessary and appropriate. Responding to the Chairman's concern that many insurance companies were reported to have refused to provide insurance for a building in Mongkok, DSHA(Ag) said that the crux of the issue was that the OC should maintain the management and safety of the building at a reasonable level so that the insurance companies would be willing to provide insurance. It was really a business decision. The Chairman considered that the Administration should take a more proactive approach to assist these OCs to improve the management of their buildings.

15.As regards whether there were sufficient Liaison Officers (LOs) to assist the OCs, DDHA(1) advised that 35 additional LOs had been recruited in the current financial year, and more posts would be requested for the next financial year.

16.Responding to a member's concern that some LOs might be inexperienced in assisting OCs, DDHA(1) said that the Department had stepped up training for LOs. To enhance the legal and accounting knowledge of LOs, weekly workshops were held and tertiary educational courses were organised jointly with local universities. He assured members that building management was definitely a matter of high priority for the work of LOs. In reply to a member, he said that Community Organizers were part-time helpers and their remuneration was reviewed periodically.

17.One member suggested that the Administration should maintain a database containing assessments of the effectiveness of OCs in the management of buildings. More assistance should be provided to those less effective OCs. DDHA (1) noted the suggestion and advised that District Officers could adjust their resources to provide more services to those problematic OCs.

18.On political/electioneering activities in private buildings, a member expressed concern that some OCs might have unfair treatment of different political figures/organizations. DDHA(1) stated that the responsibility for management of private buildings rested with the OCs concerned and it was inappropriate for the Administration to intervene. He informed members that there had been less complaints in respect of unfair treatment of electioneering activities in private buildings this year. DSHA (Ag) added that the Administration would advise OCs that they should give fair and equal treatment to all political parties. If some owners were dissatisfied with the decision of an OC, they could seek adjudication of the LT, pursuant to the provisions of BMO.

IV.Overhanging advertisement signboards outside buildings
[Paper No. CB(2)720(04)]

19.At the request of the Chairman, DDHA(1) presented the Administration's paper. He informed members that extensive and repeated removal of pornographic signboards in districts such as Mongkok had proved to be effective in curbing the problem. The Chairman added that similar operations in Wan Chai District had also been successful.

20.A member asked about the timing for introducing a licensing system to control advertisement signboards outside buildings. Chief Building Surveyor (CBS) responded that the Buildings Department (BD) was reconsidering the proposed licensing system, with input from the departments concerned, such as Fire Services Department. A decision had not been made. There would be extensive public consultation if the Administration decided to introduce a licensing system. The Chairman said that consideration should be given to requiring licencees to pay a deposit for the purposes of removal or demolition of dangerous signboards.

21.A member suggested that in line with the practice in overseas countries, there should be restrictions on the dimensions of new advertisement signboards. In the longer term, the Administration should consider regulating advertisement signboards by legislation. In this connection, CBS advised that the need for different treatment for existing and new signs would be considered in the proposed licensing system.

22.On the safety of existing advertisement signboards, CBS advised that commencing July 1997, BD had intensified its planned surveys with a view to increasing the number of inspections to an average of 3 000 signboards per month. In reply to a member, CBS said that since April 1997, there had been six accidents involving advertisement signboards, in which five minor injuries had been reported.

23.CBS informed members that the proposed Building Safety Inspection Scheme would also help to address the problem of dangerous signboards affecting the integrity of external walls of buildings.

24.In concluding the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration to take an early decision to address the problem.

V.Items for discussion at the next meeting
[Paper No. CB(2)720(05)]

25.Members considered the list of discussion items for future meetings and agreed that the next meeting would be held on Monday, 19 January 1998 to discuss the following -

  1. youth policy;

  2. composition and functions of Area Committees and District Management Committees; and

  3. division of work for projects under the Rural Planning and Improvement Strategy.

26.Members also agreed to include the following in the list of discussion items for future meetings -

  1. progress on implementation of the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance;

  2. review of public opinion surveys conducted by the Home Affairs Department;

  3. initial report in respect of Hong Kong under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (after the report had been submitted to the relevant committee of the United Nations and the Provisional Legislative Council); and

  4. progress of voter registration for the 1998 Legislative Council Election. (Post-meeting note : As the item fell within the policy area of the Constitutional Affairs Bureau, the Panel on Constitutional Affairs would discuss the issue at its meeting on 9 January 1998. Members of the Panel on Home Affairs would be invited to attend discussion of the item.)

27.The meeting ended at 12:35 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
12 January 1998