Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1241/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ HS+ EA+CA

Legislative Council Panel on Health Services,
Panel on Environmental Affairs
and Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Joint meeting on
Monday, 14 December 1998 at 9:15 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Members of Panel on Health Services

Hon Michael HO Mun-ka (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Chairman)
# Dr Hon LEONG Che-hung, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon CHAN Yuen-han
* Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
# Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung
Dr Hon TANG Siu-tong, JP
# Hon LAW Chi-kwong, JP

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

* Hon Christine LOH (Chairman)(Joint Panel meeting Deputy Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon WONG Yung-kan

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Members Absent :

Member of Panel on Health Services

# Hon Mrs Sophie LEUNG LAU Yau-fun, JP

Members of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Hon HUI Cheung-ching (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Hon Raymond HO Chung-tai, JP
Hon Bernard CHAN
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Mrs Miriam LAU Kin-yee, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members of the Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam

* Also a member of Panel on Constitutional Affairs
# Also a member of Panel on Environmental Affairs

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Michael SUEN, JP
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mrs Maureen CHAN
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Clerk in Attendance :

Ms Doris CHAN
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4

Staff in Attendance :

Miss Odelia LEUNG
Chief Assistant Secretary (1)1

Mrs Percy MA
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3

Mrs Mary TANG
Senior Assistant Secretary (1)2

Mrs Eleanor CHOW
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

Ms Mariana LEUNG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7

I. Election of Chairman

Nominated by Dr YEUNG Sum and seconded by Miss Christine LOH, Mr Michael HO was elected chairm an of the meeting.

2. As it was envisaged that there would be a series of joint meeting, members agreed that a deputy chairman would also be required. Nominated by Dr YEUNG Sum and seconded by Dr LEONG Che-hung, Miss Christine LOH was elected Deputy Chairman of the meeting.

(Representatives of the Administration joined the meeting.)

II. The Consultant's Report on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services in Hong Kong (the Report)
(LC Paper No. CB(2)849/98-99(01))

Consultancy Study

3. At the invitation of the Chairman, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (SCA) referred to the Administration's paper (which enclosed the Report and a booklet on the Administration's initial responses) and briefed members on the background leading to the Consultancy Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services commissioned by the Government. He reiterated the point, which he had stressed on many other previous occasions, that the review on district organisations and the proposed new structure as recommended in the Report was never meant to be a criticism of the performance of the Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs). He explained that the new structure was proposed on the basis of support from the general public and also from the medical community, that management of food safety and environmental hygiene should be centralized. As regards the Democratic Party (DP)'s "One municipal council, one municipal services department" proposal (LC Paper No.CB(2)834/98-99(01)), SCA referred to the Administration's response (LC Paper CB(2)867/98-99(01)) which explained why the proposal was not acceptable.

4. SCA said that the Administration had accepted most of the recommendations of the Report in principle, but had yet to scrutinise the details. A Task Force would be formed to follow through from the in-depth study of the recommended new structure to the setting-up of the new Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene (new Department) and Bureau for the Environment and Food (new Bureau) by the end of 1999.

5. SCA said that the primary objective of the recommendations contained in the Report was to improve services related to food and environmental health. He trusted that the final outcome of the proposed new structure could strengthen effort in environmental protection and conservation, which in turn would benefit the sustainable development of Hong Kong. The aim of the restructuring was to enhance coordination so that resources could be more effectively used. The process would involve merger of or redeployment among relevant government departments. Having due regard to the interests and concerns of the affected staff, the Administration had briefed them on the restructuring. On the proposed organisational structure and staffing of the new Department and the new Bureau, SCA said that the Task Force had yet to study it in detail; and further streamlining might be introduced by the Task Force or the Administration. Any changes to the organisational structure of the Government or the approved establishment ceiling, and any creation and redeployment of directorate posts, would be subject to the approval of the LegCo Finance Committee in due course. He supplemented that the Enhanced Productivity Programme would also be applicable to the new structure, but that would be considered separately after the establishment and staffing of the new structure had been finalised. He emphasized that it was now the beginning and not the end of the process. He invited members to give their views and assured them that they would be informed of the progress at relevant panel meetings.

6. Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (PAS/CA) presented the major recommendations contained in the Report and highlighted the following areas -

  1. The proposed new Bureau would oversee the new department , the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) and the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD),

  2. The key functions and responsibilities of the proposed new Department which would comprise an Environmental Hygiene Branch, a Food and Public Health Branch, a Veterinary Public Health Division, and an Administration Branch,

  3. The estimated staffing of the new department which was recommended to be 18,000, of which 17,500 would come from the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD), 270 from the Department of Health (DH) and 131 from the AFD,

  4. The licensing authority would be transferred to the new Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene, with the exception of liquor licences, which would be dealt with by a new Liquor Licensing Board,

  5. An Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene would be set up, and the District Councils (DCs) would play a greater role in monitoring and advising on food and environmental hygiene services,

  6. The role of the Legislative Council in monitoring food and environmental hygiene services would be enhanced after reorganisation through vetting of the annual Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure of the new Bureau and new Department, scrutiny of capital works projects above a certain financial ceiling, as well as requests for civil service posts, and other mechanisms for the Administration's accountability such as LegCo Panel and LegCo questions,
  7. Environmental hygiene priorities which would be followed up by the new Bureau and new Department and the Task Force would include review of the entire cleansing services, action against "visual pollution", rationalising refuse collection routes, review for "more contracting out of services", and enforcement of "no smoking" in licensed food premises and cinemas.

General discussion

7. Dr LEONG Che-hung pointed out that the medical community supported the centralisation of food safety and environmental hygiene services, but had considerable reservations about the proposed new structure.

8. Mr Martin LEE questioned the Administration's sincerity in consultation with the public. He remarked that the Administration's promptness in finalising the decision to abolish the Municipal Councils (MCs) was drastically different from its indecisiveness in confirming the details of the new structure. In response, SCA said that discussion on the issue at Constitutional Affairs Panel meetings had started since the last Policy Address in October 1997. Consultation, on the other hand, had been widely targetted at all sectors of the community, including the LegCo. He himself and his colleagues attended various forums including radio phone-in programmes in order to listen to views of the public.

9. Dr YEUNG Sum said that the whole restructuring exercise signified retrogression in constitutional development as could be seen from the fact that power for policy-making relating to district matters was taken away from the MCs which had elected elements in them. There was no delegation of such power to corresponding institutions like the DCs. He regretted that the way the Administration arrived at its decisions had been lacking transparency. Dr TANG Siu-tong echoed the view and expressed regret over the reduction of public participation in monitoring the delivery of municipal services through the elected elements of the MCs. He referred to para 8.02 of the Report and pointed out that although DC's role in monitoring food safety and environmental hygiene services would be enhanced, there was no additional resources recommended. Mr Andrew WONG Wang-fat queried the rationale behind the Administration's decision of not accepting the DP's "one municipal council, one municipal services department" proposal. He opined that the DP's proposal, while achieving the objective of streamlining the structure and improving coordination through centralisation, could also accommodate all the recommendations of the Report. Furthermore, the two principles of "devolution of power for municipal matters" as well as "centralisation of food safety and environmental hygiene services" could be upheld at the same time.

10. In response, SCA said that the Administration had been open and transparent throughout the consultation to review the structure of district organisations in coming up with the current proposal, the Administration had also complied with all the general practices of consultation with the LegCo. He pointed out that the enhanced role of the DCs in monitoring the Government's performance in management of food safety and environmental hygiene would be reflected in the District Councils Bill which had just been gazetted. With respect to Mr Andrew WONG's query, SCA said that the Administration did not agree that the DP's proposal could accommodate all the recommendations contained in the Report. He stressed that the framework and pace of democratic development in Hong Kong was specified in the Basic Law. He further pointed out that the Home Affairs Bureau was consulting the public regarding the functions of arts and culture, and sports and recreation. By the time the initial proposal would be ready at the end of the month, a fuller picture of the outcome of the review on the framework for administration of municipal services would be available.

Streamlining the structure

11. Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum and Mr LEE Wing-tat queried how the proposed new structure could achieve the objective of streamlining the existing structure with respect to delivery of municipal services. They shared the view that as the new Department would be staffed by 18,000 personnel transferred from various departments, it was a merger rather than streamlining. Mr LEE Wing-tat pointed out that with respect to staff and administration costs, the proposed new structure would only delete 149 posts from the USD/RSD establishment, and together with the additional 46 recommended additional posts for the new Department and new Bureau, including a D8 post to head the new Bureau and other senior posts, would end up in only $28 million savings in staff cost per annum. The expected savings from general expenses of the two municipal council secretariats, which was to be in the region of $80 million per annum, constituted only 0.3% of the current expenditure. They considered the reduction insignificant and far from the expected result of any streamlining. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum added that the resources required for arrangement of the new structure and consequential redeployment of the affected departments had not yet been accounted for. Mr LEE Wing-tat queried whether the Administration was indeed using streamlining as a pretext to abolish the MCs.

12. SCA explained that streamlining should not be equated with reduction of staff. If the services provided by the USD and RSD were to be maintained, staff responsible for providing relevant services would need to be retained. On the other hand, savings should not be calculated simply on the staff and administration costs. In this regard, he pointed out that the current rate financing system applicable to the operation of MCs would be replaced by the system of annual appropriation by the LegCo. The new structure had to compete with all the other Government departments for resources, as opposed to the existing practice of automatic transfer of rates revenue, which enabled the Provisional Municipal Councils to fund projects regardless of need. Another aspect expected to achieve streamlining was the recommendation for more contracting out of service. SCA stressed that the Administration would study the recommendations in detail and would propose further streamlining of the structure. He cited the example that when the "environment" aspect would have been taken away from the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau (PELB), re-organisation within the PELB would follow.

13. In response to Mr. Ambrose CHEUNG's suggestion that during the process of restructuring, affected staff should be arranged for transfer within the civil service as far as possible, SCA said that while he agreed with the principle, there might be some redundant staff from the municipal services departments who could not be absorbed by other departments.

Improving coordination among government departments

14. A number of members were not convinced that the proposed structure could improve coordination among government departments, but on the contrary, they could already see duplicated responsibilities. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum pointed out that the function of the new department and the DH over prevention and control of infectious diseases were overlapping. Dr LEONG Che-hung considered that the recommendations in this aspect was "untidy" and asked that if food-related diseases were to occur in the future, whether the DH or the new department would be responsible for providing the services as described in para 2.02 of the Report. And if the DH was to provide such services, whether there would be any mechanism enabling coordination between the two departments. He also raised the concern that if 270 posts were to be transferred from the DH to the new department, whether the DH would still be fully able to discharge its duties as described. Mr LAW Chi-kwong pointed out that all diseases, except venereal diseases, were directly or indirectly related to environmental health and asked whether the new department should therefore take over the responsibilities of prevention of all diseases.

15. Members expressed concern over the complicated procedures and the length of time required for processing of restaurant licences and liquor licences. They asked whether there would be a review of the mechanisms by the Administration after the authority for the issue of licences (except liquor licences) had been transferred from the Provisional Urban Council and Provisional Regional Council to the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene. Mr Howard YOUNG commented that the Administration had always focused on the structure only and neglected the concern of the affected users. He asked whether the Administration would be able to provide a "one-stop" service as requested by the catering sector.

16. In response, SCA reiterated that the Report had just been published, and the Administration had yet to study it in detail. While the Constitutional Affairs Bureau was involved primarily in the review of the existing framework for delivery of municipal services, the Task Force to be set up would be responsible for scrutinising the details and implementing the final recommendations. As the restructuring involved a number of departments, he was not in the position to comment an anything that had not yet been discussed by the Administration internally. Dr LEONG Che-hung wished to know the purpose of the meeting if SCA was unable to explain the proposed arrangements and the Consultant who made the recommendations was not present at the meeting. The Chairman asked SCA to inform members of the parts of the Report on which questions would be answered by him. SCA explained that the present meeting enabled the Administration to report on the progress of the review and to brief members the initial response of the Administration to the Report. Members' views and comments would be taken note of and considered along the process of finalising the recommended proposals. He hoped the Administration would be able to come up with more detailed proposal in a month or so . Nevertheless, SCA agreed that there could be improvement on the current licensing arrangements. With respect to Mr CHAN Wing-chan's question of whether the Administration would consult the catering sector before any changes to the licensing arrangements were finalised, SCA answered in the affirmative. Adm

17. Dr LEONG Che-hung expressed concern that if the Task Force was to implement the recommendations of the Report and to bring the new department and new bureau into being by 1 January 2000, there was the implication that the recommendations were finalised. SCA explained that the recommendations as contained in the Report, while serving as a general direction towards a new structure, were at this stage recommendations only.


18. In view of SCA's responses in 16 and 17 above, the Chairman suggested that members should express their views, give their comments, raise questions and request for further information on this occasion so that all these could be conveyed to the relevant subject officers for consideration when the recommendations in the Report were being finalised. In this connection, Dr YEUNG Sum and Mr LEE Wing-tat called for a detailed study on the major proposals in the Report. Dr LEONG Che-hung questioned whether the new structure as recommended in the Report was the best way to centralise food and environmental hygiene.

19. Mr CHAN Wing-chan and Mr LEE Wing-tat requested that, in order to facilitate review of the current licensing arrangements, further information be sought or a comparative study be conducted on licensing arrangements in other countries.

20. With respect to the transfer of the functions relating to poultry inspection and control, food animals quarantine and health checks, livestock/poultry farm hygiene inspections, as well as the coral fish harvest zones registration programme currently performed by the AFD to the new Department, Mr WONG Yung-kan questioned what would be the "aftermath" arrangements within the AFD regarding its remaining functions. He also asked for further information on the future arrangements for management of Country Parks and imported food and seafood. Mr Howard YOUNG opined that the responsibility of management of Country Parks should be transferred under the new Department, one reason being that cleansing was an important aspect in management of Country Parks.

21. Referring to the transfer of policy responsibility for Country Parks, Conservation and Environmental Protection from the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands to the Secretary for the Environment and Food (SEF), Professor NG Ching-fai opined that the new proposal focused on the management aspect only. He queried whether the Administration would consider taking this time of change as a chance to consider promoting development of the agriculture and fisheries industry, which had long been neglected. Dr YEUNG Sum also asked whether there would be any conceived limitation on the development of environmental protection work after the proposed transfer of relevant responsibility to SEF.

22. Regarding the points raised in 18 to 21 above, the Chairman suggested that the Clerk liaise with the Administration and the Research and Library Services Division of the Secretariat for clarification or further information, as appropriate.Clerk

III Any other business

Date of next meeting

23. Members agreed to hold a series of joint meetings to continue monitoring the progress of the issue; and requested that the Consultant and relevant government officials should be invited to attend future meetings so as to answer questions relating to their respective areas of responsibilities. Adm

24. It was agreed that the next joint meeting would be held on Friday, 15 January 1999 at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building.

(Post meeting note : The venue had been changed to the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building.)

25. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:45 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
4 February 1999