Heroism at a price

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 1996, 12:00am

The Government was slow to show its appreciation for the heroism of Yeung Hoi-keung, who was shot and paralysed while chasing a robber in 1989. Not only did it baulk at offering him any compensation beyond the inadequate $797,260 awarded by the courts out of the $6 million found in the robber's home, it also allowed the Social Welfare Department to demand reimbursement of the $100,000 paid to his family in emergency relief from the Criminal and Law Enforcement Injuries Compensation Scheme.

Since Mr Yeung was also faced with a $200,000 legal bill for his efforts to get a share of the robbery haul, the department's demand seemed particularly stingy. Recovery of emergency relief is, apparently, standard procedure. It is nonetheless a remarkably callous approach for a department which exists to look after the needy.

For once, however, the Government has responded relatively swiftly to public pressure. Legislators led the campaign for Mr Yeung to be compensated out of public funds. The Governor, ever the populist, also chimed in with a community service award. Now, Secretary for Security Peter Lai Hing-ling has confirmed the question is no longer whether to compensate Mr Yeung, but how and by how much. He even abandoned his usual caution and promised to pay enough to secure a stable living for the family. He is doing the right thing.

However, the Social Welfare Department still wants its pound of flesh, although it is considering an appeal from Mr Yeung. Moreover, the Government insists this is an ex gratia payment which implies no legal responsibility. This is not a precedent. Victims of random violence whose battles do not happen to become a cause celebre will still have to fight for every cent of compensation. Sadly, many will lose.