Allowance is not a waste of taxpayers' money

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 12:00am

Your correspondent 'Name and Address Supplied' called for the housing allowance for Native English-speaking teachers (NETs) to be scrapped (South China Morning Post, November 6).

The Education Department pays the 'special allowance' to offset overseas-hired NETs' rental expenses and other living costs. The rationale for the allowance is that NETs have no family base in Hong Kong and so incur childcare costs, private school fees and airfare costs when they come to Hong Kong.

Of course, when one relocates abroad, benefits like the 'special allowance' play a significant role in determining which country one will relocate to. I left Singapore for Hong Kong three years ago and know many NETs who left Singapore, Japan, Korea and Brunei because they found the NET programme just as your correspondent reports, 'a package of attractive incentives'. However, the Education Department's withholding of the special allowance from locally hired teachers is not discriminatory. The rules governing the special allowance require that an applicant's residence be outside Hong Kong. If a person is already based in Hong Kong when applying to the NET scheme, clearly he did not and does not require the allowance to entice him to come here.

Your correspondent says NETs want to save as much money as possible. I sense that this revelation was supposed to be particularly damning. But really, so what?

Is 'Name and Address Supplied' suggesting that a spouse should not be allowed to work, simply because their husband or wife receives a salary? And in fact, with school and Immigration Department permission, NETs may engage in additional employment and do so annually during the Hong Kong Certificate of Education and A-level examinations.

Furthermore, NETs' salaries are subject to the local teachers' pay scale, and accordingly, were cut in line with the government's decision to reduce civil service pay. However, unlike their local counterparts, NETs cannot be promoted.

The NET special allowance is not a waste of taxpayers' money. Rather, it is a prudent and thoughtful investment in Hong Kong's future, for it plays an important role in continuing to attract English-speaking teachers to the SAR, at a time when English teachers are needed to address the decline in English standards.


Tai Wai