Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)561
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration and
cleared with the Chairman)

Ref : CB2/PL/WS

Panel on Welfare Services

Minutes of Special Meeting held on Tuesday, 21 October 1997 at 2:30 pm 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 CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members absent :

Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP
Hon Frederick FUNG Kin-kee
Hon CHOY Kan-pui, JP
Hon LO Suk-ching
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP

Member attending :

Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Public officers attending :

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

Ms Miranda CHIU
Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare

Mrs Louise WONG
Director of Social Welfare (Acting)

Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Social Security)

Deputations :

Elderly Rights League (HK)
Ms TAM Dip-wan
Ms NGAN Shou-fong
Ms KAN Shuk-yin
Mr PANG Wai-shing
Ms LEUNG Wai-chun
Mr CHAN Wing-Yiu
Ms CHU Fung-han
Mr CHAN Wing
Mr LAU Yui-foi
Mr LAM Pui-shan
Ms TANG Shan-shan

Society for Community Organization
Mr NG Wai-tung

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 4

Staff in attendance :

Ms Joanne MAK
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 4

I.Commencement date of additional monthly payment to elderly recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance (CSSA)

The Chairman directed that the meeting would only discuss the immediate commencement of the additional monthly payment of $380 to elderly CSSA recipients. Other requests set out in the submission from the deputations in relation to CSSA(tabled at the meeting and circulated to absent members vide PLC Paper No. CB(2) 482) would only be forwarded to the Administration for consideration.

2.Miss CHAN Yuen-han pointed out that shortly after the Chief Executive's (CE) delivery of the Policy Address on 8 October 1997, dissatisfaction had been expressed by the elderly CSSA recipients as to why the Administration could not immediately effect the increased payment of $380 for them and why the increase was so little. She recalled that Members of the previous Legislative Council (LegCo) had also made a strong request to the Administration to immediately increase the monthly CSSA payment for the elderly by $300 pending completion of the review on CSSA. She also wanted the Administration to note that most Members of the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) were in support of immediate commencement of the additional monthly payment to the elderly CSSA recipients.

3.On behalf of the Elderly Rights League, Ms TAM Dip-wan made the following requests in respect of CSSA -

  1. to immediately increase the CSSA payment by $600 each month;

  2. to increase the CSSA payment up to $2,900 by early 1998; and

  3. not to cancel the annual Chinese New Year Grant and the Social and Recreational Activities Grant.

She pointed out that back in April 1997, they had requested an immediate increase of $300 a month in CSSA payment. Therefore, the additional payment of $380 was inadequate as it failed to take into account the inflation over the past six months. Moreover, granting immediately the additional monthly payment of $380 to the elderly CSSA recipients would only incur an additional expenditure of about $260 million, which could certainly be met by the tremendous fiscal reserves of the Government. She also criticized that the Government was too mean to cancel the annual Chinese New Year Grant and the Social and Recreational Activities Grant, which were much needed by the elderly.

4.Mr CHAN Wing-yiu of the Elderly Rights League criticized that the Administration's policy was self-contradictory in that it recognized, on the one hand, the inadequacy of the current CSSA payment and, on the other hand, decided not to grant the payment until 1 April 1998. Since the review on CSSA had pointed out that the current CSSA payment was inadequate, the Administration should grant the additional monthly payment of $380 to the elderly immediately. He appealed to members to understand the hardship of the elderly, many of whom were suffering from chronic diseases and needed to spend much money on medical treatment.

5.Mr PANG Wai-shing representing non-CSSA elderly recipients expressed disappointment with the Policy Address in respect of welfare for the elderly, and pointed out that the elderly people simply could not benefit from the Mandatory Provident Fund. He suggested the Administration to increase the rate of Old Age Allowance and conduct a survey on the living standards of the non-CSSA elderly recipients.

6.Ms LEUNG Wai-chun, a non-CSSA elderly person living alone requested the Administration to increase the asset limit for applications of CSSA to $70,000. She said that, in her case, her meagre savings amount had rendered her ineligible for CSSA. However, she actually had to put up with high rent after being resettled in a housing unit at Tsz Wan Shan which charged $900 for a single room. She also pointed out that the elderly spent on average $700 to $800 each month on medical expenses. Therefore, it was understandable that they wanted to keep some savings just for a sense of security.

7.Mr NG Wai-tung representing the Society for Community Organization said that since CE often mentioned that the provision of " a sense of security for the elderly " was his target in the formulation of elderly policy; and pledged to place prime importance on elderly welfare, he wondered why the Administration could not effect immediately increase in CSSA monthly payment for the elderly. He pointed out that the additional cost thus incurred was minimal especially if compared with the US$1 billion contributed by Hong Kong towards the financial package to assist Thailand. He also asked who would be held responsible in case there were elderly people who died of poverty in the interim.

8.Mr HO Wing-him informed members that the matter under discussion had actually been deliberated at the very high level within the Administration. It was decided not to increase the additional monthly payment for the elderly immediately mainly because there was a lack of funding to meet the anticipated cost of $ 200-plus million. He elaborated that there had been large increase in the Government expenditure on CSSA. In fact, $ 2.2 billion had already been spent on CSSA in the first quarter of the current financial year whereas the estimated budget for CSSA for this period was only $ 1.6 billion. In other words, there was an overexpenditure by 37% for the first quarter of the year.

9.Mr HO Wing-him further pointed out that there had been a continuing trend of increasing Government expenditure on CSSA, growing in tandem with the rate of increase in CSSA caseload in the past few years. Current estimates were that the total expenditure on CSSA for the current year would be about $ 9.5 billion, which would far exceed the $ 7-plus-billion budget for the item. He explained that the Health and Welfare Bureau (HWB) could not identity savings within its portfolio to meet the additional expenditure arising from the payment of proposed increase of $380 this financial year.

10.Miss CHAN Yuen-han did not accept that the Administration was unable to absorb the extra cost of $200-plus million given the fact that it had unhesitantly contributed US$1 billion to the financial package for assisting Thailand. She highlighted that the request for immediate commencement of the $380 additional payment for the CSSA elderly recipients had been supported by many people of the society as well as PLC Members. She criticized that the Administration's explanation was unconvincing and it had ignored the well-being of the elderly. She suggested that the Administration should explore using the Reserved Funds as what the former government did in 1993/94 to meet the then substantial increases in social welfare expenditures. Alternatively, the Administration could consider meeting the cost by capital expenditure.

11.In response, Mr HO Wing-him appealed to members' understanding that HWB could only expend within the budget set for the Bureau for each financial year. He re-confirmed that there was no money within HWB which could be spared to meet the additional cost of $200-plus million.

12.Mr HO Sai-chu considered that the increase in CSSA payment by $380 was far less than the amount proposed by the Liberal Party, which had requested that the monthly basic rate should be increased to $3,100. He also considered that the Administration should grant the monthly increase of $380 immediately to the elderly since this had been supported by so many people as well as the PLC Members. Moreover, the cost incurred was not great which could definitely be met by the Government's vast fiscal reserves which were generating an interest of about $100-plus million each day. Adm

13.Mrs Elsie TU wondered how the Government could convince the elderly that it was unable to absorb the extra cost of $200-plus million when it was spending so much money on fireworks display and the financial package to rescue the Thai baht. She wondered if it was really due to the Government's inability to absorb the cost, or a matter of convenience for the Administration that it was too troublesome to work out. In response, Mr HO Wing-him explained that he was not in the position to confirm whether or not the Administration could absorb the cost by other sources of funding outside the control of HWB. However, he undertook to relay members' views to the Administration for consideration.

14.Mr LEE Kai-ming also considered that the Administration's explanation unconvincing and asked why the Administration did not consider seeking supplementary provisions from the Finance Committee to absorb the cost. In reply, Mr HO Wing-him said that supplementary provisions would only be allocated when such estimates had been made in the budget. For example, the Administration could seek supplementary provisions to cover increases in expenditure on CSSA which was a committed policy at the time when the budget was set. However, the additional cost of $200-plus million was incurred by changes in policy and no estimates for the purpose had been made in the current budget.

15.Miss CHOI So-yuk opined that welfare for the elderly had long been neglected during the British rule and therefore the Administration should make up the time by introducing improvements expeditiously. She was glad to see that the Government of the Special Administrative Region had shown sincerity to improve the elderly welfare. As the elderly had also contributed a lot to the prosperity and success of Hong Kong, she hoped that the Administration could make concrete improvements to the elderly welfare as soon as possible.

16.Mr MOK Ying-fan pointed out that the demand for immediate increase in the CSSA payment for the elderly had been raised by LegCo and PLC Members for a long time. He wondered if the Secretary for Health and Welfare and Mr HO Wing-him had " hearing problems' and therefore failed to listen to voices in support of immediate commencement of the additional CSSA payment for the elderly. He was disappointed to see that CE did not even know that the request could be easily satisfied by simple administrative means. He also expected that Mr HO Wing-him would get a promotion as precedents had shown that officers who did not accede to requests in respect of CSSA were usually promoted fast.

17.In reply, Mr HO Wing-him clarified that he had tried his best to explain the deliberations of the Administration on this matter and he also welcomed different opinions in the discussion. However, he considered that there was no need for members to make personal attacks or cast unfair criticisms on him. Mr MOK Ying-fan responded that he was not making any personal attack and clarified that he was only asking the Administration to address the needs of the elderly.

18.Mrs Sophie LEUNG was supportive of the request for immediate commencement of the additional CSSA payment, and requested the Administration to make available more functions/work for the elderly to participate so as to enrich their lives. She also asked why the Administration had repeatedly failed to make accurate projection of CSSA caseloads during these few years. In response, Mr HO Wing-him said that while further improvements could be made with regard to projecting the caseload, the major reason for the inaccuracy was that there had been a substantial increase in CSSA cases. The increase was attributed to a number of reasons including stepped-up publicity, increased amount of payments and the improved asset limit. He explained that although the unemployment rate had been falling, more unemployed people had become aware of CSSA and applied for assistance. He drew members' attention to the point that the Government's expenditure on a family receiving CSSA was much more than that on a CSSA elderly recipient. In response, Mrs LEUNG commented that there were only 6-plus million people in Hong Kong and the Administration should be able to gather more accurate information regarding the size of the population in need of CSSA and their profiles. This could help to make better projection of CSSA caseload and draw up more accurate and realistic budgetary estimates.

19.Mrs Elsie TU agreed that too much money had been spent on CSSA for families with mothers not allowed to stay in Hong Kong. These families had to live on public assistance as the fathers had to quit their jobs to look after their children. She considered that money was being misspent and was worrying. However, she did not see that the elderly should suffer because of problems caused by the immigration policy. Miss CHAN Yuen-han also considered that the increase in CSSA caseload was partly due to the Administration's lack of efforts in the past to help the unemployed who, in consequence, became financial burden to the Government now. She warned the Government that if it did not address timely the need for an old age pension scheme, the Government would have to bear a heavy burden some years later as the population was ageing rapidly.

20.Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung expressed support for the request and considered that the Administration should explore all possible sources of funding. He also considered that if it was established that there was a need to increase the CSSA payment for the elderly immidiately, the Administration should explore all the possible means to do so.

21.Mr CHAN Choi-hi commented that the Administration was over-cautious in approving expenditure on social welfare. He suggested Mr HO Wing-him and CE each to try, for one month, spending only $2,060 to understand more deeply the hardship of the elderly.

22.Mrs Peggy LAM also expressed support for immediate commencement of the additional monthly payment of $380 for elderly CSSA recipients.

23.Miss CHAN Yuen-han moved the following motion -

" This Panel requests the Government to commence the additional monthly payment of $380 to elderly CSSA recipients with effect from October 1997. "

24.The motion was subsequently amended by Mr CHAN Choi-hi to be -

" This Panel requests the Government to commence the additional monthly payment of $380 to elderly CSSA recipients with effect from October 1997 and objects to the Government's cancellation of the annual Chinese New Year Grant and the Social and Recreational Activities Grant. "

25.Regarding the amendments to the motion as proposed by Mr CHAN, Mr HO Wing-him clarified that the Administration was not cancelling the annual Chinese New Year Grant and the Social and Recreational Activities Grant. He explained that the Administration was actually proposing to combine the annual Chinese New Year Grant and the Social Recreation Activities Grant for the elderly under the CSSA Scheme and increase the rate substantially from an annual amount of $550 to a monthly payment of $380. Adm


26.Miss CHAN Yuen-han considered that the amendments made by Mr CHAN Choi-hi were appropriate and requested the Chairman to put it to vote.

27.Members present voted unanimously for the motion.

28.Members requested the Administration to further consider members' request as stated in the motion and revert to the Panel in a week's time. Members also agreed that arrangements for a meeting with CE should be made right after the meeting so that members could express their views direct to CE.

29.The meeting ended at 3:45 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 November 1997