Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1467
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration

Ref : CB2/PL/WS

Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Meeting held on Wednesday,
18 February 1998 at 10:45 am in the Chamber
of the Legislative Council Building

Members present:

Hon WONG Siu-yee (Chairman)
Hon CHAN Choi-hi (Deputy Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Mrs Peggy LAM, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon MOK Ying-fan
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon LO Suk-ching

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public officers attending :

Item III

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (4)

Ms Miranda YEAP
Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Mr Joseph K C LEE
Assistant Director of Housing

Mr Carlos LEUNG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare

Item IV

Mr Francis LO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (5)

Assistant Director, Home Affairs Department

Mr Augustine NG
Chief Town Planner, Planning Department

Senior Property Manager, GPA

Mr Paul WONG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Subventions)

Miss YU Po-yee
Chief Executive Officer (Planning)

Item V

Mr HO Wing-him
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (2)

Mrs Louise S Y WONG
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration)

Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)

Mr LI Kok-ming
Chief Social Security Officer (Social Security)

Item VI

Mr Robin GILL
Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3)

Miss Victoria TANG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare (2)

Mrs Patricia CHU
Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services)

Mr Carlos LEUNG
Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth & Training)

Attendance by invitation :

Item III

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
Mr WONG Kwok-kei
Mr Philip CHOI
Ms Lilian LAW

Residents' Association for Fighting for Community Development Services
Ms WONG Ling-hei
Ms CHAN Tung-mui
Mr HO Wah

Item V

Social Security Assistants' Branch
Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association

Mr YEUNG Tak-hing

Mr CHAN Chun-wah

Item VI

Social Work Graduate Employment Concern Group
Ms LAU Chui-kam
Ms LEUNG Yin-mai

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4

Staff in attendance:

Ms Joanne MAK
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4

I. Confirmation of minutes of meetings held on 12 December 1997 and 14 January 1998
(PLC Papers Nos. CB(2) 1022 and 1037)

The minutes of the meetings held on 12 December 1997 and 14 January 1998 were confirmed.

2. The Chairman informed members that the Panel would make a report on its work to the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) in accordance with Rule 77(14) of the Rules of Procedure of PLC. A draft report would be prepared for members' consideration at the next meeting. Clerk

II. Date of next meeting and items for discussion

3. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting to be held on 13 March 1998 at 10:45 am. -

  1. Social Welfare Services Development Fund;

  2. White Paper on Social Welfare;

  3. Staffing provisions in private homes for the elderly; and

  4. Old age pension scheme.

Members agreed that Hon TAM Yiu-chung, in his capacity of the Chairman of the Elderly Commission (EC), should be invited to brief members on EC's position in respect of item (d).Clerk

III. Neighbourhood Level Community Development Project (NLCDP)
(PLC Papers Nos. CB(2) 1004 (01), (02), (07) (08) and (10))

4. The Chairman tabled a submission from the Mutual Assistance Committees of Homantin Estate (the MACs) and briefed members that the MACs held the following views -

  1. There were adequate channels provided by the government for residents to express their views on matters concerning their districts;

  2. the approach used by NLCDP teams was too political which had created much conflict between the government and residents; and

  3. joint working groups comprising representatives of the relevant District Boards, Social Welfare Department (SWD), and Housing Department (HD) should be set up to tackle problems arising from redevelopment.

The Chairman invited members to take account of the views of the MACs as expressed through their submission.

5. A representative of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) criticized the Administration's current policy of no further extension of NLCDP service to deprived areas such as squatter areas and rural areas. He pointed out that the Administration, without consulting the welfare sector, had imposed the criterion that only transient communities affected by redevelopment would be selected as project areas of the service. The representative said that had the Administration not adopted such a policy, NLCDP teams whose service areas were to be cleared shortly could continue to provide NLCDP service in deprived communities.

(Post-meeting note: In a letter dated 6 May 1998 addressed to the Clerk, the Administration clarified that the concept of "transient communities" had appeared in the "Five Year Plan for Social Welfare Development in Hong Kong - Review 1991", "Five Year Plan for Social Welfare Development in Hong Kong - Review 1993" and "Five Year Plan for Social Welfare Development in Hong Kong - Review 1995". The representatives of HKCSS who attended meetings of the Five Year Plan Review did not raise any objection to the concept as stated.)

6. The representative also pointed out that although the Executive Council (ExCo) had yet to take a final view on the future of the NLCDP service, the Administration had informed the two existing pilot NLCDP teams to wrap up their services by 15 April 1998. He said that the new mode of service which might be introduced to replace NLCDP had the following shortcomings -

  1. The new service which mainly aimed at providing referral of services would not be able to promote residents' participation in their community affairs. This would hamper the development of the community.

  2. A mechanism should be put in place to ascertain service demand and review the future development of the new mode of service if it was introduced.

7. Another representative of HKCSS briefed members that based on a recent survey conducted by HKCSS, the following problems were found in rural areas -

  1. the household incomes of over 40% of residents in rural areas were below $10,000 and the educational standard of the residents were generally low;

  2. many of the residents were residing in areas remote from the town centre and not accessible to welfare services;

  3. there were long-standing environmental/ social problems in rural areas such as the lack of postal service, provisions of street lamps and other basic community facilities;

  4. rural areas were lacking in provisions of recreational and transport facilities;

  5. there was more severe ageing problem with the population of rural areas (30% of the population aged 55 or above).

8. The representative considered that as the general conditions of rural areas met the established criteria for selection as project areas of NLCDP, the Administration should reconsider extending the service to these areas.

9. A representative of the Residents' Association for Fighting for Community Development Services said that NLCDP was important to residents in helping them to articulate their needs and concerns to the authorities. With the assistance rendered by the NLCDP teams, the residents were able to learn their rights, build up their civil mindedness and develop their community spirit. She considered that the service was important particularly to the grassroots and urged the Administration to extend the service to new towns and new public housing estates.

10. The Principal Assistant Secretary (Home Affairs) (4) (PAS(HA)4) said that as the Review Group for the Pilot Neighbourhood Level Community Development Projects in Old Urban Areas (the Review Group) comprised representatives from HKCSS, the Review Group should have fully considered the views held by HKCSS. He also reiterated the decision made by ExCo in December 1995 that there was no need to extend NLCDP service to new towns, rural areas and public housing estates not affected by redevelopment. PAS(HA)4 said that as the Administration was still deliberating on the internal report made by the Review Group providing advice to the Government, it was neither appropriate for it to be publicly released at this stage, nor for comments to be made by the Administration on it.

11. Mr MOK Ying-fan said that he started participation in community affairs when NLCDP teams were servicing his district some ten years ago. He considered that the service was able to promote a community spirit among residents and instil a sense of belonging in them, which were important to the successful implementation of campaigns like promotion of fire prevention in districts. He took the view that the case of Homantin Estate was an isolated case only. As the cost incurred by NLCDPs was minimal, Mr MOK supported deputations' request for extension of NLCDP service not only to old urban districts but also to all new towns.

12. In response to Mr MOK's enquiry, PAS(HA)4 said that the Administration had not terminated any NLCDP services. However, two subvented agencies had decided on their own in 1996 and 1997 to opt for other welfare programmes upon reprovisioning of two NLCDP teams. As regards allegations that the Administration had terminated some NLCDP services, the Administration would follow up if Mr MOK could provide the relevant information. Adm and

13. Mr LEE Kai-ming said that the Administration should not terminate the two pilot teams without regard to the clients' needs for the services. In reply, PAS(HA)4 explained that the nature of the pilot scheme was an experimental one. Before commencement of the relevant scheme, the Administration had already explained clearly to the concerned teams that it was a pilot scheme which was to be launched for three years on an experimental basis.

14. Mr LEE Kai-ming was dissatisfied with the Administration's reply and considered that the pilot scheme should be terminated only when ExCo had come to the view that NLCDP should not be provided to old urban areas. He also queried what action the Administration would take to help the clients who had been receiving help from the two pilot teams over the past three years. Mr HUI Yin-fat also said that it was defeating the purpose of the review if the Administration decided unilaterally to terminate the relevant service before ExCo had come to a decision that NLCDP was not required in old urban areas.

15. In response, PAS(HA)4 explained that when the Administration first launched the pilot scheme, it had stipulated that that the scheme was scheduled for three years only. He emphasized that as the scheme was a pilot one subject to a prescribed service period, the Administration was obliged to inform the concerned teams to wrap up their services when the scheme was coming to an end now. As to the clients who would be affected by the termination of the service, PAS(HA)4 said that the Review Group had made recommendations on the way forward as regards community development service in old urban areas.

16. Mr LEE Kai-ming said that he could not see why the Administration had to terminate the pilot scheme in order to conduct the review. He considered that the two could proceed in parallel. In reply, PAS(HA)4 reiterated that the scheme was set to be a pilot scheme from the outset and the Administration had stipulated from the very beginning that the scheme would only last for three years. He said that the concerned parties had been informed of these well beforehand. Nevertheless, the Chairman requested the Administration to look into the possible impact on the affected clients brought about by the termination of the service. Adm

17. Miss CHAN Yuen-han urged the Administration to address the needs expressed by the residents, including those of rural areas, for the provision of NLCDP service. In particular, she queried why the Administration had taken such a long time to conduct the review as the Review Group had commenced work ever since early 1997. She considered that the Administration was adopting a delaying tactic by conducting reviews and pilot schemes with the ultimate intention of cutting the service as could be seen from the moves of the Administration of combining NLCDP projects and arranging absorption exercises. On the submission from the MACs of Homantin Estate, Miss CHAN Yuen-han agreed with Mr MOK Ying-fan that it was an extreme case as the general feedback on NLCDP was good. She considered that cooperation amongst community groups was important in the fight for resources from the government.

18. Mr CHAN Choi-hi was dissatisfied with the Administration's decision to terminate the pilot scheme despite the good feedback on the service. He considered that NLCDP service was important to the residents particularly in the midst of the economic downturn as being experienced by Hong Kong now. He said that it would be dangerous to the society if people could not find channels to air their views and dissatisfaction. He also disagreed that social workers were politicizing issues and considered that such comments were unfair to social workers.

19. Mr HUI Yin-fat considered that the government should adopt a more open attitude and listen to the views expressed by residents. He requested the Administration to provide the report of the Review Group to this Panel for discussion before submitting it to ExCo for endorsement. Miss CHAN Yuen-han supported the request.

20. In response, PAS(HA)4 said that as the report was compiled at the behest of ExCo, the report should be submitted to ExCo in the first instance. The Chairman then requested the Administration to seek ExCo Members' agreement to provide the report to this Panel for discussion first. PAS(HA)4 said that the Administration would have to consider this request.

21. Mr HUI Yin-fat, however, was worried that the Administration would submit the report of the Review Group to ExCo for discussion shortly. He considered that this Panel should forward its views to ExCo as soon as possible for consideration before ExCo took any decision on the matter.

22. Miss CHAN Yuen-han recalled that the subject of NLCDP was discussed at the meeting of the former LegCo Panel on Welfare Services on 5 December 1995. After the meeting, the Administration submitted its recommendations, without submitting them to the Panel first, to ExCo for endorsement. She insisted that this time the Administration should seek ExCo Members' agreement to provide the report to this Panel for discussion first.

23. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry, PAS(HA)4 said that the Administration had not submitted the report to ExCo yet as it was still studying the report. PAS(HA)4 emphasised that since ExCo had tasked the Review Group to produce the report, ExCo should have the first opportunity to study it. He suggested, however, that this Panel could make a request to ExCo, through the PLC Secretariat, for provision of the report to this Panel for discussion first.

24. Mr Frederick FUNG considered that the Administration was adopting a delaying tactic in order to submit the report to ExCo sometime between April and July 1998 when the PLC session was coming to an end. He said that it was clear that the Administration was inclined to scrap the NLCDP service. Thus, he did not trust that the Administration was sincere in listening to members' and the public's views on this matter.

25. PAS(HA)4 said that the Review Group had thoroughly considered submissions from the welfare sector and the public, and met representatives of the concerned groups and social worker unions in the course of its work. However, public views on NLCDP service would also be taken into account in considering the way forward. He pointed out that the Administration had no intention of delaying its study on the report with a view to submitting the report to ExCo at a later date.

26. Mr Frederick FUNG proposed the following motion -

"that the Administration should provide the Review Group's report to PLC for discussion before it was to be submitted to ExCo."

27. The Chairman considered that the proposed course of action was not the best way of resolving the matter as the final decision rested with ExCo. He suggested that this Panel should write to ExCo to request for provision of the report to this Panel for discussion before 8 April 1998. Mr HUI Yin fat added that ExCo should also be requested not to make any final decision on the future of NLCDP before listening to the views of this Panel. (Post-meeting note : the Chairman's letter of 23 February 1998 to the Convenor of ExCo was circulated to members under PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1100. ) Clerk

IV. Follow-up on review of community centres and sites for development of such centres
(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 1004 (03))

28. The Principal Assistant Secretary (HA) (5) (PAS(HA)5) briefed members on the Administration's paper which had set out in detail the 67 reserved sites as requested by members at the last meeting.

29. In response to Mr HUI Yin-fat's enquiries, the Assistant Director of Home Affairs (AD(HA)) said that Home Affairs Department (HAD) was actively identifying joint users for the joint development projects. In most cases, HAD was consulting with SWD to see if it had a need for the space for development. He said that the joint development at Sai Ying Pun would be the earliest one to start construction. The work would commence by early July 1998 and there would be several social welfare facilities within that site. As to why only three out of the 67 sites had been released to SWD for development, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Subvention) (AD(SW)) explained that SWD actually would set up a total of some 150 service units at 45 of the reserved sites. The three sites which had been released to SWD were sites where extensive development of welfare facilities would take place and it was considered more appropriate for SWD to take charge of the development. He said that under the five categories covering the 67 sites, development of welfare facilities was included.

30. Mr CHOY Kan-pui enquired why the two sites "Ma On Shan 103" and " Ma On Shan 108" which were relatively close together had not been combined as one single site and provided with only one community centre there. In response, AD(HA) explained that it was at the advice of the relevant District Officer that given the large population in the area, there was a need for community facilities at both sites. Moreover, the "Ma On Shan 108" site had little potential for redevelopment and was more suitable for development of community hall and social facilities. As for the "Ma On Shan 103" site, it was a larger site and HAD was looking at the possibility of incorporating additional users there.

31. Mr CHOY Kan pui further enquired which of the existing community centres had no retention value but had potential for redevelopment. In reply, AD(HA) said that in most cases the existing halls still served an existing need although in some cases the utilization rate was rather low. He said that HAD was exploring how to get a better utilization for some of the centres. If no improvement was made, HAD would look at the possibility of either redevelopment or transferring the facilities to another site and giving up the site for other uses. Regarding the redevelopment plan in respect of some existing community centres, PAS(HA)5 said that the Chai Wan Community Centre was one of the examples which would be redeveloped into a youth centre. At the Chairman's suggestion, Mrs Peggy LAM, who was the Chairman of the PLC Panel on Home Affairs, agreed that the review of the existing community halls and their future development be followed up by that Panel.

PLC Panel
on Home

32. Mr LAU Kong-wah requested the Administration to provide a schedule in respect of the development of the 67 reserved sites. AD(HA) replied that there was no overall time-table for the 67 sites but each site would be taken forward as quickly as possible. For the joint development projects, AD(HA) said that once suitable joint users were identified, HAD would seek funding approval for the projects to take them forward. The Senior Property Manager of the Government Property Agency (SPM) added that there were various factors preventing some of the reserved sites from early development. For instance, some of the sites were located in the New Territories where resumption of land was necessary before the site would be ready for any redevelopment. In response to Mr LAU's further enquiry, PAS(HA)5 said that "joint users" varied from case to case and HD and SWD were some of the examples. SPM agreed that in each case of identifying joint users, it required individual consideration depending on the circumstances and location of the site involved.

33. Mr LAU Kong-wah was worried that the Administration would delay the development of the 67 sites in the excuse that no suitable joint users could be identified. In response, AD(HA) reiterated that there was no overall concrete time-table but a number of development proposals had been taken forward to a fairly advanced stage as some had already secured funding approvals. He said that there were complications with some of the sites and it would be unrealistic to give a time-table.

34. Mr CHAN Choi-hi commented that it was unacceptable that there was no time-table for the development of the 67 sites. He suggested that a joint working group comprising representatives of SWD be set up to look at the development of the 18 sites under the category of "Joint Developments".

35. At the Chairman's request, PAS(HA)5 agreed to provide information on the current position regarding those sites which had developed to a relatively advanced stage. AD(SW) said that development of the three sites which had been released to SWD would be completed in three to four years' time. Adm

36. In respect of the existing 77 community centres and community halls, Mr Frederick FUNG requested the Administration to provide information on their median utilization rate and the lowest utilization rate. In reply, PAS(HA)5 said that in the last financial year, the median utilization rate of the existing 77 community centres and community halls was 61%. At night time, the utilization rate of many of them was as high as 90%. As regards those community centres and community halls with a utilization rate of only 30%, the Administration had been looking at the reasons behind and bid for additional resources and manpower to improve the management of these community centres and community halls with a view to improving the utilization rate. Mr Frederick FUNG requested the Administration to critically review the existing value of the 77 community centres and community halls and to release as many sites as possible for development of housing and welfare facilities. Adm

37. In response to Mr LO Suk-ching's enquiry, AD(HA) said that in most cases with the private development projects, the community halls were built at government's expenses and they would be government property. As far as the seven sites within this category were concerned, the extent of development of community facilities varied from site to site. AD(SW) said that six of the sites would incorporate social welfare facilities and tenderers for development of these sites would be informed of this requirement in advance. The developer, upon completion of constructing the welfare facilities, would be reimbursed the relevant cost.

V. Follow-up on shortage of Social Security Assistants
(PLC Papers Nos. CB(2) 1004 (04) and (05) )

38. The Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Administration) (DD(A)) referred to the Administration's paper and highlighted that a mechanism was in place for detecting fraud cases of applications for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA). In fact, home visit was only a part of the mechanism. She said that as restricted by the shortage of manpower, it was necessary for the Social Security Field Units (SSFUs) to adopt the following measures in order to ease the work pressure of staff and to provide prompt service to clients -

  1. conducting only random checks on CSSA cases;

  2. stepping up prosecution of fraud cases uncovered;

  3. reviewing the existing policy on CSSA to prevent abuses of the scheme; and

  4. implementing the work easement measures as introduced at the last meeting.

39. DD(A) noted that members had expressed concerns about the suspension of home visits for 90% of CSSA cases. To improve the situation, the Administration would create some 100 additional Senior Social Security Assistants (SSSA) and Social Security Assistants (SSA) posts in 1998/99, with about 40% of the new posts hopefully to be filled by 1 April 1998 and the remainder in June 1998. The service quality would also be enhanced by the implementation of the following measures -

  1. strengthening the investigation of suspected fraud cases by creating an additional Special Investigation Team (SIT);

  2. improving the manpower of the existing SIT so as to conduct 500 more random checks per month through home visits to those CSSA cases which were comparatively more unstable in circumstances; and

  3. deploying SSAs of SSFUs to conduct 2,400 more random checks on single elderly CSSA recipients per month.

40. Mr LAU Kong-wah said that the Administration should tighten up measures such as conducting more home visits to scrutinize CSSA applications in order to prevent abuses. He considered this would be more cost-effective than setting up SITs as the amount of overpayment recovered by SITs might be just enough to offset the staff cost incurred. In reply, DD(A) explained that SITs by conducting random checks had a deterrent effect on applicants and they were also required to conduct investigation of suspected fraud cases. In view of the large number of CSSA cases being handled, DD(A) considered that it was necessary to create an additional SIT.

41. Mr LEE Kai-ming enquired whether the creation of the 100 additional posts would be adequate to solve the manpower shortage faced by the SSFUs. In reply, DD(A) said that additional manpower would certainly help to improve the situation. Moreover, SWD was going to review the work easement measures with a view to meeting increase in service demand and providing an acceptable level of service.

42. Mr LEE Kai-ming further enquired whether the Administration would consider shortening the processing time of six months for a new CSSA application. In response, DD(A) clarified that the processing time of CSSA applications was on average 13 to 14 working days. It was only in very exceptional cases (such as cases involving complicated or disputed medical certification of disability to qualify for a higher rate) that the processing time would be that long. However, she added that field unit staff could exercise flexibility in effecting payment to take into account the urgency of individual cases.

43. Mrs Elsie TU considered that the staff shortage was affecting adversely the service standard. She questioned why SWD had not pushed the government enough to get the necessary resources. In response, DD(A) said that the Administration had already created some 230 additional posts from April 1996 to September 1997 and some 100 new posts would also be created in the next financial year. As the manpower shortage was caused by the rapid increase in CSSA caseload, the Administration was reviewing measures to streamline work procedures.

44. Mrs Elsie TU queried why the service could not be improved with increased supply of social work graduates now. In response, DD(A) explained that the entry requirements for SSAs were full certificate qualifications, i.e. 5 passes in HKCEE including English and Chinese Language. She also pointed out that there was no recruitment difficulty for the two ranks each year.

45. At the Chairman's invitation to respond, a representative of the Social Security Assistants' Branch of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association made the following points -

  1. It was believed that by conducting more home visits, the Administration would discover more fraud cases/overpayment cases.

  2. As at November 1997, there was already a shortage of 101 SSSAs. As the average annual increase in CSSA caseload was 20%, it was estimated that the shortage of SSSA would increase to 194 by November 1998. However, out of the 102 new posts to be created next year, only 64 would be SSSA and out of which seven would be deployed to the additional SIT. Therefore, the net increase of SSSA for SSFUs would be 57 only next year against a shortfall of 194. It was estimated that there would be a shortage of 137 SSSA by November 1998.

  3. In respect of the policy of automatic extension of payment to 90% CSSA elderly cases, it was unreasonable for the Administration to conduct only random checks on these cases.

  4. Referring to a report prepared by SWD which set out that SIT, by conducting random checks to 5,760 cases covering three categories of Social Security Assistance applicants, had uncovered 270 overpayment cases involving $2.02 million overpayment, he recommended that SWD should conduct home visits to all the cases under these three categories, the total number of which was some 520,000 as at November 1997. To do so, it would only incur SWD an additional staff cost of $40 million. However, he estimated that the overpayment involved in the 520,000 cases would be $185 million.

  5. By providing adequate manpower, the Administration would provide clients with better services as it had pledged to render in the 1996 and 1997 Policy Addresses.

46. The representative considered that the Administration should explain why it had repeatedly failed to make accurate projection for growth in service demand and to bid for adequate resources. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the explanation given by the Administration at the meeting. The Chairman considered that the shortage problem could not be solved immediately and requested the Administration to look into it and explore means to improve the staffing situation. Adm

VI. Follow-up on employment situation of fresh social work graduates
(PLC Papers Nos. CB(2) 1004 (06), (09) and (11) )

47. The Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (3) (DS(HW)3) said that since the last meeting on 12 December 1997, the Administration had identified that 97 social work posts should be created in the first quarter of 1998/99. He also pointed out that expenditure on welfare development was estimated to be $24.9 billion in 1998/99, representing a real growth of over 13%.

48. In response to Mr HUI Yin-fat's enquiries, DW(HW)3 said that SWD would endeavour to create new additional posts in the first quarter of each financial year which would be in advance of the next group of graduates coming on to the market. Thus there would not be a problem of reduced number of posts available for the next batch of graduates.

49. A representative of Social Work Graduates Employment Concern Group said that based on their information, there were still some 360 social work graduates (i.e. 50% of the total) unable to find employment in social work, and there would be about 900 social work graduates next year. However, there were only 318 new posts to be created in the next financial year. The representative said that although some of the graduates might not want to work in the social work sector, the number of social work posts was very inadequate compared with the large number of social work graduates. She also queried why only 318 new posts would be available next year.

50. Mr LAU Kong-wah considered that it was a waste of resources to have trained up a large group of social work graduates who could not find work in the social work sector. He opined that this had reflected the fact that there were slippages in social service development resulting in holding up the creation of approved posts. As regards rumours that the Administration was considering to reduce the number of social work graduates, Mr LAU considered this would lead to further deterioration in service quality. He said that the Administration should account for the welfare project slippages and why there was such a wide gap between the number of social work posts provided and the number of social work graduates.

51. Mr Howard YOUNG noted from the Administration's paper that "83% of the degree graduates and 80% of diploma graduates have already secured employment" and enquired whether the rates were regarded low as compared with other disciplines. He personally considered that graduates of a certain discipline did not necessarily have to work in the related field. However, Miss CHAN Yuen-han considered that the case of social work graduates was different as they were professionally trained for social work. She also considered that there should not be such a wide gap between the manpower supply and the provision of jobs as both were planned by the government. She was also concerned about the welfare project slippages as there were serious shortages of many kinds of welfare services.

52. In response, DS(HW)3 reiterated the results of the survey recently conducted of which the response rate was 69% for degree graduates and 63% for diploma graduates while 83% of the degree graduates and 80% of the diploma graduates responding to the survey had secured employment. The Administration believed that 43% of the respondents had found jobs in the social work sector. In terms of delay in completion of projects, he said that the Administration had tried its best to minimize this as far as possible. He explained that a considerable number of the services were dependent on the availability of premises and the difficulty in securing suitable premises was a major cause of delay. However, SWD was doing its utmost to reduce the extent of slippage but often the factors were outside its control. Other than the provision of suitable premises, DS(HW)3 said that SWD in some cases had to rely on the Housing Authority to provide suitable sites for social welfare facilities. However, SWD had already been working very closely with other departments in a bid to minimize slippage of projects.

53. DS(HW)3 reiterated that the manpower projection exercise was only a projection. Fluctuations in those intervening variables sensitive to changes (such as the wastage figures) could have significant impact on the accuracy of the projections. He said that every year, the Administration conducted a manpower assessment exercise in conjunction with representatives of HKCSS and they were committed to making sure that the figures were as accurate as possible.

54. DS(HW)3 said that expenditure on social welfare was substantial and now accounted over 12.5% of total recurrent government expenditure. The growth in recurrent expenditure on direct welfare spending had doubled in the last four years. There was clear evidence that the Government remained committed to providing quality welfare services.

55. The Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) (DD(S)) explained the entry requirements for the posts of SSA and SSSA which were completion of Form 5 studies and matriculation respectively. She said that as open recruitment exercises were conducted for the grade annually, graduates who were interested were welcome to apply. She said that SWD was now reviewing the approach of social welfare manpower planning in conjunction with HKCSS and the relevant advisory committees.

56. Mr LAU Kong-wah considered that the Administration was shedding the responsibility by attributing the unemployment problem to various external factors. He requested the Administration to release information on the projected manpower supply and demand as well as the number of posts to be created in the next five years so that students could consider whether or not to enrol in social work studies. The Chairman requested the Administration to provide the information by the next meeting. Adm

57. DS(HW)3 said that the advanced creation of 97 new posts was a very practical step taken by the Administration to help this year's social work graduates. As regards the annual manpower assessment, he informed members that the next planning report would be available around April/May 1998 and could be submitted to this Panel for information once available. In response to Mr Frederick FUNG's enquiry, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Youth & Training) said that the working group on the manpower assessment also comprised representatives from various tertiary institutions. Mr LAU Kong-wah suggested that the working group should also comprise student representatives. The Chairman said that as the report would be available by April/May 1998, members could decide later whether it was necessary to convene a meeting in May 1998 to discuss the report. Adm

58. The meeting ended at 1:15 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
22 May 1998