Pressed into action

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 1996, 12:00am

The press may find it gratifying to be reminded of its power. But that does not make it any the less disgraceful for the Social Welfare Department to ignore some applications for financial assistance until they are taken up by the media.

Department spokesman Liu Chun-keung should, at least, be congratulated for having the honesty to concede some low-profile cases would never otherwise be processed. The department will, of course, seek to deny this. A statement purporting to 'clarify' his admission should be expected within the next few days.

But Ng Siu-chun's experience is testimony to the existence of this discreditable practice. Her application for assistance with funeral expenses, after her husband was killed in an industrial accident, was initially rejected - only to be suddenly approved within hours of this newspaper publicising her plight.

The department will doubtless seek to pretend this was a coincidence. But Mr Liu's explanation is scarcely more credible. He suggested that the department received too many applications for them all to be processed.

Over the past four years, the Government has massively expanded its spending on social welfare. The pace of increase was so fast that Beijing began complaining about it, and some programmes had trouble absorbing the extra funds available.

If the department is too short-staffed to process applications then it need only ask and additional resources are likely to be made available. However, if no such request made it can hardly be answered, leaving the department to blame for the problem.

The media does have a vital role to play as a watchdog over government. But it should not need press intervention for the bereaved to receive financial assistance. Ms Ng deserves an apology from the bureaucrats for the shabby way in which they have treated her.