Surge in Chest donations not enough
'Tight-fisted' government putting pressure on community charity, says expert
The public has managed to dig deeper during the economic recovery, with donations to one of the city's most renowned charities jumping 42 per cent in the year to April.
The Community Chest recorded $222 million in donations until the end of March - almost as high as the $237 million peak of 1997-98.
Before the economic recovery, donations to the Chest had plunged sharply, with $149.3 million donated in 2002-03 and $156.3 million in 2004-05.
The Community Chest pointed out that the 2004-05 fund-raising year lasted only nine months because it realigned its fiscal year with the fund-raising year, partly explaining the $156.3 million figure that year.
But Wong Hung, assistant professor of social work at the Chinese University, warned that the increase in donations would not ease the Community Chest's financial stress if the Social Welfare Department remained tight-fisted and agencies were forced to turn to the Chest instead.
Despite the increase, the Chest, which funds 137 agencies, appealed for more donations to support a drastic increase in the number of beneficiaries - up 50 per cent from 800,000 people to 1.2 million in the past four years.
'In addition to funding more new initiatives, projects and pilot schemes that are not subsidised by other funding or government grants, the Chest will also provide special funding to agencies in areas where they badly need financial support,' a Chest spokeswoman said.
Dr Wong said welfare agencies had three major funding sources - the government, the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Community Chest.
If the other two refused to provide assistance, the needy turned to the Chest for help, he said.
'It is rather unfair to the Chest if the government continues to pass its financial responsibilities onto it,' he said.
Cliff Choi Kim-wah, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service business director of sector development and partnership, shared similar views. 'The Community Chest provides funding to many new services that fail to gain support from the [government],' Mr Choi said.
The Hong Kong Council of Social Service is one of the Chest's beneficiaries.
In December, the city's only round-the-clock rape crisis centre, RainLily, narrowly escaped closure after the Community Chest stepped in to fund it. The government refused to subsidise the centre, which was previously funded by the Jockey Club.
In May last year, the Industrial Evangelistic Fellowship's Rehabilitation Centre for Problem Gamblers was also granted $1.45 million by the Community Chest for a three-year pilot scheme tailored to female gamblers.
The centre had applied for Social Welfare Department funds, but the department said it did not provide funding for such a service.
The department rejected claims it had handed its financial responsibilities to the welfare sector.
'We subsidise the services we find necessary to the community,' a spokeswoman said.