LC Paper No. FC155/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB1/F/1/2

Finance Committee of the Legislative Council

Minutes of the 13th meeting
held at the Legislative Council Chamber
on Friday, 29 January 1999, at 2:30 pm

Members present :

Hon CHAN Kam-lam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Kenneth TING Woo-shou, JP
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan
Hon Michael HO Mun-ka
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon LEE Cheuk-yan
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon NG Leung-sing
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon HUI Cheung-ching
Hon Christine LOH
Hon CHAN Kwok-keung
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong
Hon WONG Yung-kan
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon LAU Chin-shek, JP
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP
Hon TAM Yiu-chung, JP
Hon FUNG Chi-kin
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP

Members absent:

Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP (Chairman)
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon Eric LI Ka-cheung, JP
Dr Hon David LI Kwok-po, JP
Dr Hon LUI Ming-wah, JP
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Public officers attending :

Miss Denise YUE, JP
Secretary for the Treasury

Mrs Carrie LAM, JP
Deputy Secretary for the Treasury

Principal Executive Officer (General), Finance Bureau

Mr Raymond HO
Chief Assistant Secretary of Works Bureau

Principal Environmental Protection Officer

Mr Alex MA
Assistant Director of Information Technology Services

Mr Raymond CHIU
Assistant Director of Planning

Mr Kenneth TANG
Senior Town Planner of Planning Department

Mr Allan CHOW
Principal Assistant Secretary for Transport

Mr Alan LUI, JP
Assistant Commissioner for Transport

Mr FAN Ho-chuen
Project Manager of Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Mr Philip K F CHOK
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Ms Michelle LI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1)

Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Mr Joseph Y T LAI
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3)

Mr Patrick LI
Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (2)

Mr LEE Hing-fai, JP
Senior Assistant Director of Education

Assistant Director of Education

Deputy Director of Architectural Services

Engineering Branch Manager of Electrical and Mechanical Services Department

Mr Carlos LEUNG, JP
Assistant Director of Social Welfare

Mr Raymond P H CHAN
Chief Systems Manager of Information Technology Services Department

Clerk in attendance :

Ms Pauline NG
Assistant Secretary General 1

Staff in attendance :

Miss Polly YEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)3

Ms Sarah YUEN
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)4

As Mr Ronald ARCULLI, Chairman, was indisposed, Mr CHAN Kam-lam, Deputy Chairman, chaired the meeting.

Item No. 1 - FCR(98-99)67

Environmental Protection Department
‥ New Subhead "Office Automation for Environmental Protection Department"

2. Mr CHAN Wing-chan questioned the justification of the present proposal to install an Office Automation (OA) network system in the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) with a new commitment amounting to $15,521,000 only to achieve a notional 1% savings in staff costs while the express target of the Enhanced Productivity Programme (EPP) was 5%. He was also concerned about the capability of the proposed system in serving the EPD offices if the number of branch offices was increased. In response, the Chief Assistant Secretary of Works Bureau (CAS/WB) pointed out that apart from enhancing office efficiency immediately, the proposal could better equip EPD for attaining productivity targets under the EPP in the following years. The Principal Environmental Protection Officer of EPD supplemented that with savings expected to accrue from OA, EPD had already planned to undertake in the coming financial year a number of new environmental initiatives amounting to approximately $40 million without requiring additional resources.

3. In reply to Mr CHAN Wing-chan on why the normal cost and benefit analysis with an estimated pay-back period was not entirely applicable in this proposal, CAS/WB and the Assistant Director of Information Technology Services (AD/ITS) explained that as the benefits of OA to a department's operations were not tangible, it was often not possible to quantify precisely the direct resultant productivity gain or savings. Notwithstanding, it could be safely assumed that if documents and internal communication were handled electronically, the time spent on these activities could be reduced by five minutes per day. The improved efficiency could bring about a notional 1% savings in staff costs amounting to about $2.6 million a year. The consumption of paper could also be cut down.

4. Noting that only a few computerization projects had been put to the Finance Committee (FC) for funding approval, Mr FUNG Chi-kin asked if all Government bureaux/departments would be included in the Government Office Automation (GOA) programme. In reply, the Deputy Secretary for the Treasury (DS/Tsy) confirmed that as electronic data transfer had already become the basic mode of office communication, it was the Government's policy to extend the GOA programme to all Government bureaux/departments. She further explained that not all such projects had been forwarded to FC because computerization projects costing not more than $10 million each were funded by a block allocation and only projects exceeding $10 million each had to be approved individually by FC.

5. Mr FUNG Chi-kin was concerned that the current practice of seeking funding on a project-by-project basis instead of collectively might give rise to additional costs for linking up such separately developed systems. In response, CAS/WB and AD/ITS advised that as the needs of departments were different, a project-by-project approach could ensure flexibility to facilitate cost control and progress monitoring. As to additional link-up costs in future, CAS/WB reported that the GOA programme had already provided for the linking up of Government bureaux/departments in two phases for completion by late 2000. Twenty-two bureaux/departments had been linked up under Phase I of the programme and Phase II would link up the remaining 68 bureaux/departments by two stages. Stage 1 involving 22 bureaux/departments had been completed while Stage 2 was progressing smoothly with seven bureaux/departments already linked up.

6. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 2 - FCR(98-99)68

Planning Department
‥ New Subhead "Office Automation for Planning Department"

7. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 3 - FCR(98-99)69
Transport Department
‥ New Subhead "Replacement of traffic control and surveillance system in Aberdeen Tunnel"

8. Mr CHAN Wing-chan questioned the reasons for the long lead time of about 23 months required for the replacement project and the project management costs of $8.9 million charged by the Electrical and Mechanical Services Trading Fund.

9. In response, the Project Manager, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (PM/E&MSD) advised that the project in question was a highly complex one comprising a series of tasks ranging from feasibility studies on the project scope to testing and monitoring of defects liability of the installed equipment. The complexity was compounded by the continued operation of the tunnel while replacement works were taking place. The Administration was still exploring the most efficient means to replace the equipment of the surveillance system. Quite a number of site supervisors would have to be engaged to monitor the work of the contractor closely to ensure smooth progress in tunnel operation and replacement works concurrently. He assured members that the $8.9 million was a reasonable level of charge when compared to fees charged by consultancy firms in the private sector for comparable projects which ranged from 11% to 15% on the value of the project. A lead period of 23 months for a project of this scope was also reasonable.

10. On Mr LEE Kai-ming's request for clarification on the proposed feasibility studies to be conducted, PM/E&MSD explained that the studies were only targeted at the more complex systems such as the installation of electronic traffic information signs etc. The overall direction and the funding requirements of the replacement project as a whole had been ascertained by preliminary studies conducted by the E&MSD and the Transport Department. The proposed feasibility studies would serve to confirm existing findings for the purpose of finalizing the project scope.

11. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 4 - FCR(98-99)70
‥ Subhead 492 Grants to UGC-funded institutions

12. Dr. YEUNG Sum stated that whilst supporting the proposal, Members of the Democratic Party (DP) were of the view that the Government should not require the eight University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions to make up the shortfall on their own following the decision to freeze the tuition fees for the 1998/99 academic year. Now that the Administration had agreed to apply for supplementary provision to meet such shortfall, Members of the DP hoped that in future, the Administration would not impose policy decisions on the UGC-funded institutions and require the latter to deal with the consequences such as shortfall in funding on their own.

13. Professor NG Ching-fai also stated that the Administration should, as a matter of course, meet the shortfall resulting from a freeze or reduction in tuition fees so as to remove unease on the part of the institutions over possible insufficient funding. He supported the proposal.

14. In response, the DS/Tsy clarified that as far as funding was concerned, it had never been the Administration's intention that the UGC-funded institutions should be required to meet the shortfall in tuition fee income in full on their own. She recapitulated that when the freeze on 1998/99 tuition fees was announced, the UGC had agreed that the bulk of the resultant shortfall in tuition fee income should initially be absorbed within the overall provision for the UGC-funded sector in the 1998/99 to 2001/01 triennium having regard to the Government's difficult budgetary situation. The UGC had also undertaken to discuss with the institutions on how best the resultant shortfall could be coped with to ensure that the quality of education would not be compromised. The UGC would then revert to the Administration for supplementary provision. DS/Tsy advised that having completed consultation with the institutions, the UGC, with the support of the Education and Manpower Bureau and Finance Bureau, had put up the present request for supplementary provision. She reiterated that it was not a case of Government making a decision and requiring the institutions to bear the financial consequence as some members might have perceived.

15. As to why the estimated requirements for grants under the Local Student Finance Scheme would be reduced by $46 million for the 1998/99 academic year, the Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower (1) explained that as the maximum grant payable under the Scheme was based on the amount of tuition fees and related academic expenses, any downward adjustment in tuition fees would result in a reduction in the amount of grants payable under the Scheme.

16. The Committee approved the proposal.

Item No. 5 - FCR(98-99)71
‥ Subhead 834 Equipment for computer studies
Item 511 Enhancement of use of information technology in school education

17. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was gravely concerned about the availability of computer facilities to children from less well-off families. Referring to concerns raised at the Education Panel when issues related to information technology (IT) in education were discussed, Mr CHEUNG reiterated the view of Members of the DP that the Administration should seek to provide one computer for each less well-off family with school children so that these children would not be disadvantaged in terms of access and connectivity to IT facilities after school hours and would have adequate hands-on practice which was essential for achieving computer competence. As over 30 000 families were in receipt of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, Mr CHEUNG urged that the Administration should allocate a proportion of the $2,925 million commitment to provide a subsidy to needy students to enable them to purchase their own personal computers, in the same way as subsidies under the Stationery and Textbook Assistance Scheme (STAS) were disbursed. Mr CHEUNG's concerns were shared by Mr LEE Kai-ming who agreed that it was important for each student to have his own personal computer at home. Mr LEE also supported the provision of a subsidy to needy students.

18. In response, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (3) (DS/EM(3)) re-affirmed the Government's commitment to providing greater assistance to facilitate students' use of IT facilities after school hours, which was also one of the objectives in the Five-year Strategy on IT Education. The specific measures to be undertaken included the following:

  1. provision of a total of 1 000 computers with access to the Internet in about 120 community facilities mainly for use by students after school hours;

  2. provision of an incentive grant to schools with effect from 1999-2000 to encourage them to make available their computer facilities for use by students after normal school hours;

  3. on-going discussion with the two Municipal Councils on the feasibility of installing IT facilities in their libraries; and

  4. possible ways of giving away surplus computers disposed of by the Government to needy students were being explored.

19. Dr YEUNG Sum agreed with the Government's objective of ensuring that children from less well-off families with no computers at home should not be disadvantaged and asked whether the Administration would work towards this objective by providing needy students with their own computers in due course. Whilst supporting the proposed flexibility in disbursement of funds, Mr SIN Chung-kai said that the Administration might consider adopting a phased approach whereby at the initial stage, needy students in the senior forms were assisted to acquire their own computers.

20. In response, DS/EM(3) advised that the Administration had given very careful consideration to whether direct subsidies should be provided for students to purchase their own personal computers. It had come to the view that for the time being, it would be more cost-effective to provide IT equipment at community facilities so that the same amount of resources could benefit a greater number of users. Moreover, it would be much easier for the Administration to monitor whether the computers were well utilized if they were placed at schools and community facilities than if they were used by individual students at home. He reiterated that whilst the Administration had reservation at present about providing direct subsidies to students for the purchase of computers, it was actively exploring other means, such as giving away outmoded serviceable computers no longer used by Government departments, to needy students. He undertook to provide further information after the meeting on the estimated number of such computers. On whether the Administration would co-ordinate the disposal of these computers from both the public and private sectors as suggested by Mr LEE Kai-ming, DS/EM(3) said that some non-government organizations (NGOs) had started a project to collect surplus serviceable computers from companies and institutions. The Administration considered it more appropriate for the NGOs and the corporations concerned to work out the arrangements but it would try its best to encourage and facilitate such projects. Admin.

21. Given the on-going updating of computer models, Mrs Sophie LEUNG was concerned whether now was the right time to invest such a vast amount of resources into purchasing computers. In response, DS/EM(3) highlighted the need to explore all possible approaches to enhance the use of IT in education. Students were not expected to be conversant with the state-of-the-art skills but they should be equipped with the necessary basic know-how in IT.

22. As regards the proposed $27 million for provision of IT equipment at community facilities, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong considered the level of provision grossly inadequate and disproportionately low. He queried whether students could really benefit in view of the limited number of computers available at the centres and the opening hours of these centres being from 2 pm to 10 pm only.

23. On the availability of computer facilities at youth centres, the Assistant Director of Social Welfare (AD/SW) advised that under the present proposal, each centre would be allocated eight computers for priority use by students although if not being used by students, other visitors might also use them. Apart from the additional provision, each centre had already been equipped with three computers. AD/SW estimated that on the basis of a 45-minute session, a total of about 48 000 sessions a week could be made available for students to use computes at some 120 community facilities. DS/EM(3) added that according to unofficial estimates, about 50% of the student population had computers at home. Hence, the demand for IT facilities at youth centres should not be very high.

24. Mr YEUNG Yiu-chung was concerned that the estimated 48 000 sessions might not be adequate to meet the needs of students. He enquired whether there were any plans to review and increase the level of provision of computers, as well as the criteria for selecting the 120 community centres in question. In reply, DS/EM(3) advised that the total of 1 000 computers was worked out having regard to the available accommodation at the community facilities for installation. As a pilot scheme, the Administration would select 120 centres mainly according to their accessibility, popularity and opening hours. He assured members that the Education Department (ED) would review the level of computer provision regularly with the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and the voluntary agencies concerned.

25. In reply to Mrs Sophie LEUNG about the availability of professional coaching, AD/SW clarified that students received computer training in schools but not at youth centres. Nevertheless, most staff at these centres had computer knowledge and could provide some assistance to users. Mr LAW Chi-kwong was concerned about the possible increase in social workers' workload if they were expected to render assistance to student computer users at the community facilities and enquired about the availability of funding for the centres to obtain outside technical assistance on maintenance and repair. He sought further clarification on whether Internet subscription fees were to be included under "Other Charges" of the centres and on the availability of email addresses for student members of the centres.

26. In reply, DS/EM(3) confirmed that the one-off grant payable to the NGOs in charge of the selected centres for the procurement of IT facilities would include necessary costs for maintenance, consumables and Internet access expenses for the initial four years. About 500 email addresses would be available at each centre for allocation to their members on a first-come, first-served basis. The Assistant Director of Education (AD/E) added that some email addresses were available from Internet Services Providers free of charge.

27. On the possible workload on social workers, AD/SW clarified that not all centre staff with computer knowledge were social workers and he did not anticipate a great need to involve social workers in the process. He supplemented that the centres to be selected were subvented ones with an annual provision of $200,000 under their respective "Other Charges" account for meeting increased expenditure arising from the installation of computer facilities such as electricity charges. In reply to the Chairman, AD/SW confirmed that the SWD had no plan to provide additional funding to the NGOs on top of the one-off grant in question.

28. Addressing the concerns of Mr TAM Yiu-chung and Miss CHAN Yuen-han about the resources for training of teachers and the types of training available, DS/EM(3) confirmed that refresher courses were organised by the ED from time to time to update teachers of their computer knowledge. Regarding the four levels of training ranging from "basic" to "competent", AD/E advised that they were geared to equipping teachers with the competency to apply IT in education. To keep teachers abreast of the latest developments in using IT in teaching, the Administration had plans to develop about ten to 14 self-learning packages for teachers. As to why the unit cost for the four levels of training was relatively high, AD/E said that this was due to the need to engage supply teachers to take up the work of the teachers attending training courses. The unit cost might be reduced in future when more teachers were able to make use of the self-learning packages.

29. On the number of prospective training suppliers selected to provide training to teachers, AD/E advised that it was the Administration's intention to select as many suppliers as possible for the convenience of teachers from some 1 200 schools all over Hong Kong. He was confident that existing suppliers would be able to provide the additional 40 000 IT training places for teachers. AD/E further confirmed that teachers would also be required to undergo an assessment test to ascertain their competency level upon completion of training. On quality assurance, Mr SIN Chung-kai suggested that upon completion of training, the teachers concerned should also be required to complete an assessment form for the purpose of assessing the quality of the courses delivered.

30. On behalf of Members of the Liberal Party, Mr James TIEN expressed support for the proposal. He considered that making available computer facilities for students' use after normal school hours might be a more viable option than providing a direct subsidy to needy students for the purchase of their own computers as the latter option might incur administrative costs. He also sought clarification on the purpose of the cash grant to be disbursed to schools.

31. Acknowledging Mr TIEN's concerns, AD/E pointed out that the Administration would provide an incentive grant to schools with effect from 1999-2000 to encourage them to make available their computer facilities after normal school hours. DS/EM(3) further advised that an annual provision of $15 million would be earmarked for all schools for the disbursement of the incentive grant which would mainly cover overtime pay for junior school staff. He estimated that the rate of payment would be about $270 for four hours. On support available at schools, members noted that teachers often stayed behind after school hours to assist students and many schools had implemented a mentor scheme under which students from upper forms helped those of lower forms. On the purpose of the cash grant, AD/E explained that the grant would enable schools to acquire training for their teachers at the "basic", "comfortable", and "competent" levels in a more flexible manner to suit their specific needs.

32. In reply to Professor NG Ching-fai's enquiry about whether workshops would be organised for school principals on how to choose computer vendors for placing purchase orders, AD/E confirmed that ED would first issue relevant guidelines, to be followed by workshops where the Administration would collect the views of school principals.

33. Referring to his own experience, Mr CHAN Kwok-keung urged the Administration to take heed of the possible great price differentials between the time when the tender was awarded and upon delivery of the computer equipment.

34. Summing up the position of Members of the DP, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong reiterated the view that whilst the objective of the funding proposal was correct, the funding arrangements were inappropriate. In particular, he was not convinced by the Administration's explanation on grounds of cost-effectiveness and stressed that learning effectiveness, which could be enhanced by the provision of one computer for each student, must not be compromised. On the way forward, Mr CHEUNG urged the Administration to consider setting up a new subhead similar to that for STAS so as to provide direct subsidies to needy students for purchasing their own computers on criteria similar to those under the STAS.

35. In response, DS/EM(3) pointed out that about one-third of the total approved commitment on enhancing IT in education was spent on computer facilities at schools to which students could have access after normal school hours. He re-affirmed that the Administration would explore further ways to enable students from less well-off families to gain access and interconnectivity to IT facilities. As advised by the Chairman, DS/EM(3) undertook to consider members' views and concerns carefully and where necessary, hold further discussions with the Education Panel.

36. The Committee approved the proposal.

37. The Committee was adjourned at 3:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
June 1999