Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1803/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/HA

LegCo Panel on Home Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Monday, 8 February 1999 at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon CHOY So-yuk (Chairman)
Hon Albert HO Chun-yan (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Edward HO Sing-tin, JP
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon James TO Kun-sun
Hon Christine LOH
Hon LAU Wong-fat, GBS, JP
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon Timothy FOK Tsun-ting, JP

Members Absent:

Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo
Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Public Officers Attending :

Item III

Mr Francis LO
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Assistant Director of Home Affairs

Item IV

Mr LUI Hau-tuen
Deputy Director of Home Affairs

Mr Parrish NG
Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs

Miss Amy CHAN
Administrative Officer

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 2

I. Items for discussion at the next meeting
[Appendix to LC Paper No. CB(2)1251/98-99]

Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next meeting on Monday, 8 March 1999 -

  1. Follow-up to the Hearing of the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on the Initial Report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under Article 18 of CEDAW; and

  2. Provision of resources for sports facilities and training.

Ms Emily LAU suggested and the Chairman agreed that the deputations which had made submissions to the Panel on CEDAW should be invited to observe at the public galleries the discussion of agenda item (a) on 8 March 1999. Clerk

2. The Chairman informed members that the Administration's proposal for the new structure for culture and sports might be available for discussion around April 1999.

(Post-meeting note : The Administration had subsequently requested to brief the Panel on the findings of the public consultation exercise of the New Structure for Culture and Sports on 8 March 1999.)

II. Information papers issued since the last meeting
[LC Paper Nos. CB(2)1211/98-99 and CB(2)1243/98-99]

3. Members noted the following information papers issued since the last meeting -

  1. a letter dated 27 January 1999 from the Secretary for Home Affairs, setting out the Administration's responses to certain points raised by members at the meeting in connection with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on 21 January 1999 [LC Paper No. CB(2)1211/98-99]; and

  2. a summary table on the Administration's responses to the United Nations Human Rights Committee's Concluding Observations in relation to the fourth periodic report and the supplementary report by the United Kingdom in respect of Hong Kong under ICCPR [LC Paper No. CB(2)1243/98-99].

4. The Chairman advised that these information papers could be followed up at a future meeting of the Panel.Clerk

III. Development and utilization of community centre facilities
[Paper No. CB(2)1251/98-99(01)]

5. The Chairman briefed members on the background of the subject. She said that the Panel on Welfare Services of the Provisional Legislative Council had discussed the review of community centres and sites for development of such centres to make available premises/land for welfare services at its meetings on 14 January and 18 February 1998. It had been agreed that the review of existing community halls (CHs) and their future development be followed up by the Panel on Home Affairs. The Chairman further informed the meeting that the Complaints Division of the LegCo Secretariat had recently referred to the Panel on Home Affairs a case regarding the Lee On Estate Community Centre for follow up on the policy aspects.

6. At the invitation of the Chairman, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs (PAS for HA) briefed members on the Administration's paper which set out the background on the moratorium in 1989, the current policy on CH development, and the utilization of community centre facilities. He informed members that the Administration had completed in 1996 the review of the planning standards for community halls, and a public consultation exercise was conducted in late 1996.

Future provision of community halls

7. PAS for HA informed members that an inter-departmental committee, chaired by the Director of Home Affairs and comprising representatives from the Government Property Agency, Housing Department, Social Welfare Department and Education Department had reviewed the 68 reserved CH sites to assess the projected needs for new CHs. HAD was actively pursuing 22 CH projects, three of them had been upgraded to Public Works Programme Category A and another 12 joint development projects were now in Category B. In response to the Chairman's enquiry about details of the 12 joint development projects, Assistant Director of Home Affairs (AD of HA) informed members that two of the projects were in Tseung Kwan O, one each in Tuen Mun, Ma On Shan, Cheung Chau, To Kwa Wan, Fanling, Sham Shui Po, Aldrich Bay, Wong Tai Sin, Ma Hang in Stanley and Lam Tin. All these CHs were incorporated in joint-user buildings with other departments. At the Chairman's request, AD of HA undertook to provide the construction timetable and detailed location of these joint development projects for members' information. In this connection, PAS for HA explained that to maximize utilization of available land, future CHs would form part of the integrated development, instead of being stand-alone development.Adm

8. In response to Ms Emily LAU's enquiry about the recent complaint case on the Lee On Estate Community Hall project, AD of HA informed members that the Administration had contacted the Lee On Estate Concern Group on the Rights of the Elderly and kept them informed of the developments of the project. The Home Affairs Department had also pressed the Architectural Services Department to provide the implementation timetable of the project and learnt that construction work would commence in June 2000. This had been relayed to the Lee On Estate Concern Group at a meeting in January 1999.

Revised Hong Kong Planning Standards and Guidelines (HKPSG) for Community halls

9. Members noted that in the 1989 version of HKPSG, community centres and community halls were provided according to population threshold levels. Such automatic provision had resulted in under-utilization of some community halls, and this had been criticized by the Director of Audit in previous years. Members also noted that under the revised HKPSG, future community halls would be provided on a "need basis" taking into account the seven factors highlighted in paragraph 6 of the Administration's paper. In this respect, Mr Edward HO expressed concern that the revised HKSPG for community halls did not provide objective and quantitative criteria or guidelines in determining the "need" for community halls in districts. He considered that there should be some concrete, measurable yardsticks to facilitate decision-making.

10. PAS for HA explained that the previous planning guidelines were strictly based on the population size of the districts, irrespective of the district needs or availability of other similar facilities in the vicinity, resulting in low utilization of some of the facilities. Under the revised HKPSG, the provision of future CHs would be based on an overall consideration of the seven factors including area characteristics and community aspirations. The revised guidelines were more flexible and would enable a more balanced judgement of the need for community halls in districts. PAS for HA agreed with Mr HO that the factors were fairly general and sometimes qualitative. The Administration was concerned that to specify a population threshold would again lead to inflexibility. The Administration hoped that the experience in implementing the revised guidelines would throw light on the future direction.

Mr Edward HO did not accept the Administration's response. Referring to "community aspirations" being one of the factors, he questioned how this could be measured and whether a CH would be provided simply because the residents of a particular district demanded for one. He was of the view that inclusion of some quantitative benchmarks would not undermine consideration of the other factors. The Chairman shared Mr HO's concern, advising that the Administration should consider providing objective criteria in quantifiable terms. PAS for HA noted these suggestions and agreed to examine in consultation with the Planning Department the feasibility of adding quantitative criteria for reference purpose. Adm

Utilization of existing community centres/halls

11. PAS for HA reported that the median utilization rate of existing community centres/ halls was above 60%. The average utilization rate at night time was as high as 80% - 90%. Some had even achieved 100% utilization at night. These utilization rates had excluded the use of community centres/halls as temporary shelters for people in need during emergency. PAS for HA assured members that the 18 District Offices would continue to liaise actively with their respective District Boards and local communities to increase utilization of the community centres/halls. Ms Emily LAU said that, as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, she would like to see greater utilization of community centres/halls for a better use of public money. As 60% of the median utilization rate was far from satisfactory, Ms LAU asked whether this was caused by the lack of management resources. She also asked about the measures to improve the utilization. PAS for HA replied that there was already a designated committee in each District Board to monitor the utilization of community centres and community halls. The under-utilized CHs were identified and their low utilization was mainly caused by demographic changes and demolition of public housing estates in nearby areas. To improve utilization, renovation work had been carried at some old CHs in order to attract more users.

12. In response to Ms Emily LAU, PAS for HA said that additional resources had been allocated to the Home Affairs Department (HAD) in 1998/99 to hire more community workers, clerical workers and security guards for provision of better services in the management of community centres/halls. HAD would continue to request additional resources, where necessary, to improve the manpower provision and management services for CHs. Ms Emily LAU stressed that increase of manpower resources was not necessarily the right direction and that the Administration should make effective use of resources in its effort to improve the utilization of community centres/halls. On the management of community halls, Ms LAU informed the meeting that an organization which had booked Wong Tai Sin Community Hall for a meeting on 17 January 1999 was not informed of the unavailability of the premises until upon enquiry two days before the scheduled meeting. The organization subsequently learnt that the premises had been used as a temporary shelter due to the cold weather. Ms LAU opined that this incident reflected the poor management of CHs. PAS for HA undertook to follow up the matter.Adm

13. Ms HO Sau-lan observed that some CHs had been occupied for long-term use by some organizations. She therefore asked about the criteria for determining the priority of venue allocation by CHs, AD of HA explained that the general purpose of CH was to promote community building. Apart from emergency use which had an overriding priority, use of CH was generally determined on a first-come-first-served basis. However, District Officers would normally give preference to structured programmes and well-known community organizations. Ms HO opined that under this arrangement, new organizations and groups of residents in the districts would have less opportunities to organize activities, defeating the purpose of community building. AD of HA responded that District Officers had been asked to actively identify potential new groups or organizations to promote community building and the use of CHs. Nevertheless, the utilization rate of some CHs during popular hours at night was as high as 100% and community groups might find it difficult to make reservation.

14. The Chairman enquired about the present position of a previous proposal that CHs with low utilization rate should be released to make available the premises for welfare services. In this connection, the Chairman referred to the redevelopment proposal of the Chai Wan Community Centre. PAS for HA explained that the inter-departmental committee chaired by the Director of Home Affairs had reviewed 77 existing community centres/halls to assess the possibility of redevelopment. The inter-departmental committee had concluded that most of these 77 community centres/halls had the value of retention and their utilization rate was acceptable. However, it did not rule out the possibility that some of them might be redeveloped for other purposes such as education and welfare services for optimal utilization of the site. For example, the Chai Wan Community Centre would be redeveloped into a modernized integrated youth centre. AD of HA supplemented that financial provisions had already been earmarked for the redevelopment project, and the Administration was now studying the detailed plan for the project and rehousing arrangements for current users during the redevelopment period. It was estimated that the Chai Wan Community Centre would need to be closed for about two years for the redevelopment project. In response to the Chairman, AD of HA confirmed that the redevelopment project would also provide for community facilities, and current users of the Chai Wan Community Centre could move back to the premises upon completion of redevelopment.

IV. Village Representative elections
[Paper No. CB(2)1251/98-99(02)]

15. The Chairman informed members that Duty Roster Members of the Legislative Council had recently interviewed a deputation of villagers from Shung Ching San Tsuen, Shap Pat Heung, Yuen Long who complained about the proposal of the Yuen Long District Office to delete the names of 94 villagers from the provisional electoral roll of the coming Village Representative (VR) election of the village based only on the advice of the existing VRs. These Members suggested that the general issues of VR elections be referred to the Panel for discussion.

16. At the invitation of the Chairman, Deputy Director of Home Affairs (DD of HA) briefed members on the Administration's paper. DD of HA informed the meeting that there were currently about 1 000 VRs in the New Territories (NT). In 1994, the Administration and the Heung Yee Kuk had agreed on a set of the Model Rules for VR elections to ensure open and fair elections. Previously, VR elections were largely based on "one-household-one-vote", but the Model Rules had introduced more equitable arrangements including one-person-one-vote, equal voting rights for men and women and fixed four-year term for VRs.

Compliance with Model Rules in Village Representative elections

17. DD of HA informed members that more than 95% of the NT villages had elected their VRs in accordance with the Model Rules since 1994. As regards the remaining 5%, DD of HA explained that some of these villages were compiling their electoral rolls or lists of eligible candidates. In a few villages, there had been disputes or disagreement over the electoral roll, resulting in delays in holding the re-election, and a recent case was still awaiting judicial adjudication. Nevertheless, DD of HA stressed that, in general, there had not been serious problem in the implementation of Model Rules for VR elections, and the nine NT District Officers had provided administrative support to facilitate the conduct of fair and open VR elections.

18. Mr LEE Wing-tat noted that most NT villages had completed one round of re-elections already, and he queried why 5% of the villages still had not completed the necessary procedures for re-election five years after the adoption of the Model Rules. DD of HA clarified that these villages had not objected to the Model Rules, but they needed time to complete the necessary preparatory work for the re-election. Mr LEE was dissatisfied with the Administration's explanation and the long time taken by these villages in complying with the Model Rules. Mr LAU Wong-fat also asked whether the Administration had made any efforts to ensure 100% compliance with the Model Rules. In response, DD of HA said that the 95% compliance was based on previous round's performance and he expected better performance on completion of the current round of re-election by April this year. He assured members that the Home Affairs Bureau, Home Affairs Department and the nine NT District Officers would continue to make concerted efforts to resolve disputes and to facilitate the conduct of open and fair elections. In response to the Chairman, DD of HA undertook to inform the Panel of the progress of VR election in the remaining 49 villages.Adm

19. DD of HA informed members that most villages were undergoing re-election of their VRs as their current term would expire on 31 March 1999. He said that about 80 % of the villages had already completed the second round of re-election while the remaining 20 % would also hold their re-election before April. If the VRs were not re-elected in time, they could not stand for the Rural Committee elections. In response to members, DD of HA said that the re-election was progressing smoothly and the District Officers would make their best efforts to ensure compliance with the Model Rules, particularly the principles of one-person-one-vote and equal voting rights for men and women. He would also visit the villages personally to see that the Model Rules were complied with. He stressed that while the Administration would provide support to facilitate the conduct of rural elections, it would not be appropriate for the Administration to interfere too much with VR elections which were basically private and internal elections of the rural community. Mr LEE Wing-tat considered that the Administration should set a target of 100% compliance with the Model Rules, and urged the Administration to report to the Panel the results of the current round of VR re-elections which were expected to complete in April 1999. DD of HA agreed to provide the information.

Participation of women in VR elections

20. Ms Emily LAU referred to the Initial Report on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that there were 10 women among about 1000 VRs. She said that the low participation rate of women was also mentioned in the UN Hearing on 2 February 1999. In this connection, she asked whether there were any barriers against women participating in VR elections. She commented that the District Officers appeared to have played a rather passive role in VR elections and had not made efforts to analyse the reasons for the low participation rate of women in VR elections. DD of HA clarified that there were 951 incumbent VRs ( 95% of the 1000 VR seats) and election of these VRs was based on the Model Rules which provided for one person-one-vote and equal voting rights for men and women. If any of these elections were found to have not complied with the principles of the Model Rules, the District Officer concerned would not endorse the result of the election. As VR elections were voluntary elections, he did not see any barrier against women participating in the elections. DD of HA added that since his assumption of the present office, he had not received any complaint on sex discrimination in VR elections. He stressed that the election process was fair and open and that about 20 women stood as candidates in the first round of VR elections.

21. Deputy Chairman expressed concern that female villagers might be inhibited by social pressure from participating in VR elections. DD of HA responded that traditionally male villagers were more active in rural elections, but he also noted a trend of increasing women participation. Recently, the number of female VRs elected in the second round of VR elections had been increased to 13. At the request of Deputy Chairman, DD of HA undertook to provide statistics on the number of male and female electors registered for VR elections in different villages.Adm

Role of District Officers

22. Ms Emily LAU referred to the Administration's earlier response that District Officers only played a supportive and ancillary role in the process of VR elections. If that was the case, Ms LAU queried how the District Officer could endorse the VR election results if the District Officer had not monitored the entire process to ensure there were no irregularities. DD of HA responded that the District Officer would not endorse the status of an VR who was not elected in accordance with the principles of one-person-one-vote, equal voting right for men and women and fixed four-year term as stipulated in the Model Rules. Without the endorsement of the District Officer concerned, the "VR" could not take part in the Rural Committee election and could not discharge the functions of VRs such as certification of the status of indigenous villagers. Re-election would then be necessary. Responding to Ms LAU's further enquiry, DD of HA advised that so far the District Officers had not refused to endorse the status of the VRs elected, since elections normally would not be held in villages where there was disagreement over the election procedures. Mr LEE considered that if the Administration insisted on non-interference in the VR election process, the Administration should at least put in place an appeal mechanism to deal with objections raised during the election process.

Compilation of the electoral roll

23. Mr LEE Wing-tat asked whether the list of eligible voters for VR election required the approval of the District Officer or the incumbent VR concerned. He was concerned that there would be conflict of interest if the incumbent VR had the authority of determining the list of eligible voters for the VR election. DD of HA responded that although approval of the District Officer was not required, the list was compiled by the villagers themselves based on the principles in the Model Rules and consensus among villagers. Mr LEE disagreed with the Administration's response, pointing out that the VR had the authority of determining whether a person had the status of an indigenous villager, and such a status would affect the person's eligibility as a voter/candidate in VR elections. He was disappointed that the Administration had failed to resolve this long-standing problem. DD of HA replied that issues concerning the indigenous villager status should be determined by the elders of the village and the VR concerned. He said that it was not possible for the VR to distort or conceal the fact in this respect because NT villages were closely-knit rural communities and there should be proof of family trees, etc. With regard to differences in opinions regarding the voting rights of residents in villages, DD of HA said that the village elders concerned would need time to settle the disputes through consultation and discussion among villagers. He considered it impractical for the District Officers to impose uniform criteria for all villages which had different characteristics and traditions.

24. Noting that villagers had the flexibility to adapt the rules in accordance with the traditions of the villages so long as these rules were not in conflict with the "Model Rules" and had the approval of the respective Rural Committee, Deputy Chairman considered it inappropriate to leave compilation of the electoral roll entirely to village elders and VRs. He referred to recent complaints that Rural Committees had been allowed to add new criteria to the "Model Rules" to prevent some villagers who would otherwise qualify for registration as voters to participate in VR elections. For example, an indigenous villager must live in self-owned property in order to be qualified for registration, while a female indigenous villager who was married to a person outside the village would be excluded from registration. In response to Deputy Chairman's enquiry, DD of HA explained that the procedure of voter registration for "indigenous" villages was comparatively simple. However, there were some "non-indigenous" villages which also allowed registration of non-indigenous villagers subject to a residency requirement. He informed members that Shung Ching San Tsuen was a "non-indigenous" village which had at one time imposed the additional condition for registration as voters by requiring a villager to have self-owned property in the village. The District Office had subsequently resolved the dispute and this additional condition was withdrawn. DD of HA said that it was the role of a District Officer to decide whether to recognize the VR status on the basis of the broad principles of the "Model Rules". On the voting right of married women, DD of HA pointed out that it was the general principle that a married indigenous female villager should vote in the village where she resided. However, if the married women could not vote in the village they lived, alternative arrangements might have to be made, with regard to the circumstances of the concerned villages, for the indigenous female villagers to take part in the election of their original village. Deputy Chairman opined that it was a case of sexual discrimination to impose restriction on the voting right of married indigenous female villagers, since no similar conditions applied to male indigenous villagers who could freely take part in the VR election even though the latter had moved out of the village concerned. He was of the view that if villages were allowed the flexibility to adapt the "Model Rules", it would be difficult to ensure fairness since unreasonable additional conditions for registration as voters might be included by individual villages. Mr LEE Wing-tat shared the views of Deputy Chairman. DD of HA reiterated that as NT villages had different traditions and characteristics, it was necessary to allow some flexibility in the implementation of the Model Rules so long as it was not in conflict with the principles of the "Model Rules". As the election process was open and transparent, it was not possible for a particular village to impose very unreasonable conditions and any dispute could be for the court to decide.

25. Miss Christine LOH said that she had received a few complaints of a different nature. These cases involved acceptance of unqualified persons as indigenous villagers and their inclusion in the electoral roll. In this respect, Principal Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs informed members that the provisional electoral roll would be posted in the village and the District Office before the election, and anyone could challenge the qualification of the prospective electors on the roll. Miss LOH said that she would refer these complaints to the Administration for follow up. In this connection, Mr LEE Wing-tat said that he had also received a complaint that residents in Ha Kwai Chung Tsuen who had moved to live in that village during the pre-war period were prevented from participating in VR election by the existing VRs. DD of HA agreed to follow up these complaints to see whether there was any irregularity in the process of vetting the qualification of the indigenous villagers concerned. Adm

V. Any other business

26. Members noted that a special meeting had originally been scheduled for Saturday, 6 March 1999 at 9:00am to meet deputations on the Report on Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. At Ms Emily LAU's suggestion, members agreed to defer the special meeting until May/June 1999 in order to allow more time for deputations to prepare their submissions. Members noted that the United Nations hearing on HKSAR report might be held in the second half of the year.

27. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:10 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
3 May 1999