Cab chat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 August, 2003, 12:00am

Chow Sai-keung, 46, says a lesson should be learned from the recent assaults on two social welfare officers by their clients. Ride from Shau Kei Wan to Tsuen Wan. Cost $171.60.

I don't think we should treat the attacks as straightforward general assaults because there were certainly a number of elements I believe might have prompted the incidents. I definitely think the attacks reflect a very serious social problem.

The authorities should handle these cases very delicately. They should get to the root of the problem rather than just slap charges on the men. And not only should the police be handling the cases now. The Social Welfare Department should take these two incidents very seriously. The attacks are similar and are connected.

I heard that the government might be taking steps to improve security at some of the social welfare offices to avoid recurrences. They are considering putting up partitions to minimise direct contact between welfare officers and their clients. I don't think that is a very good idea, not in the long term anyway, because the whole problem is a lack of communication and, maybe, even lack of sympathy from the welfare officers in dealing with their clients.

Some news reports said one of the men was provoked when his case officer said he had been away from Hong Kong for too long, and therefore they needed to deduct a few hundred dollars from his monthly social security assistance. When the client explained that he was on the mainland to help his family organise a funeral, instead of expressing sympathy and support, the case officer had allegedly questioned why he had been away for over two months and asked whether a lot of his relatives had died.

And after that, we don't have to guess what followed. I bet many of us would have reacted strongly, even if we might not have resorted to violence.

So, if we study these cases closely, we can get behind the story and see what we can do to tackle the root of the problem. I don't believe putting barriers up for the sake of short-term safety will avoid future conflict. The problem is with communication, not security. It doesn't matter how many barriers or how many security guards you post at the office - the fundamental problem won't go away.

I think the social welfare authorities should examine how they train their staff and give them refresher courses, especially in the area of interpersonal relationships or maybe even public relations.

We are now in a very different and difficult time compared with years ago, when making a living was 10 times easier.

Nowadays, people struggle day after day trying to make ends meet. Look at me. My family of four can only afford to rent a $1,300 rooftop flat in Kowloon City. It is basically a tin can but that's the cheapest I can get. Can you imagine four people living in a 300 sq ft unit? It is simply unbearable.

My kids are teenagers, and we can't even afford to give them basic entertainment or pay for social activities. But no matter how bad it gets, I will never want handouts from the government. It's mainly a pride thing - and I don't think it is a constructive move in personal and career terms. Once you get out of the loop of the workforce, it would be extremely difficult to get back in again. That is my major concern.

I also do not want to be in a position where I cannot provide for my family and have to rely on the government to take care of my wife and children. It is my responsibility and if that's taken away from me, what is the purpose of my life?

Taking handouts from the government is not something people are proud of. I can imagine they must feel humiliated to be on the dole already. That's why case officers have to be extremely considerate and compassionate towards their clients.

Maybe they should put on a friendly face rather than putting up barriers in the office.