Leniency promised on drug centre law

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2002, 12:00am

Officials will adopt a relaxed attitude over the enforcement of a new licensing law for drug treatment centres amid fears the restrictions could force them to close, the Security Bureau told legislators yesterday.

But Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Mimi Lee Mei-mei argued the law, due to be enacted on April 1, should not be delayed despite the fact that some centres are expected to fail to meet licensing requirements.

She said exemptions would be granted to the centres, which would have four to eight years to meet zoning, town planning and fire safety requirements.

But Democrat James To Kun-sun said he would introduce a motion today to scrap the April 1 date, with the understanding that the centres' operators would report their status in three to six months. He said there was no guarantee of a resolution for rezoning, which could take years. A Legco vote on the motion will take place next Wednesday.

The South China Morning Post reported last week that several centres would not meet new requirements. The law affects 14 non-government groups operating 38 centres for about 700 drug addicts.

The bureau has confirmed that four centres would need to apply for rezoning, while four others would have to apply for a planning permit to operate in residential buildings. An unspecified number may also breach fire and safety rules.

In a paper submitted to Legco yesterday, the bureau said: 'For the most part, the Lands Department has adopted a generally relaxed approach.'

Ms Lee said at the meeting: 'We really should not delay enacting the law. The centres would apply for a licence and give us specific information that we need to determine what needs to be done to help them to get their licences.'

But Commissioner for Narcotics Clarie Lo Ku Ka-lee later estimated about $100 million would be needed for all the non-governmental organisations to meet licensing conditions.

The money is expected to come from government sources and outside funds, including the Jockey Club's lottery fund.