Chief vows ESF will keep tight rein on spending
The makeup of the English Schools Foundation's board of governors and the organisation's auditing system were among issues raised yesterday when lawmakers discussed amendments to the ESF's Ordinance bill.
The bill, which contains substantial changes to the ESF's governance, will be proposed as a private members' bill by Abraham Razack, legislator for the real estate and construction sector.
The bill will replace the ESF's 130-member foundation and executive committee with a 25-member board of governors. The board will consist of 10 independent members, seven parents, three ESF staff representatives, three school council members and two legislators.
At the meeting of Legco's education panel, accounting sector legislator Mandy Tam Heung-man asked how ESF management would prevent a repeat of the excess spending that had occurred in the past, such as seafood banquets. ESF executives made headlines in 2004 when they tried to claim a lunch bill that included oysters and wine.
The foundation's chief executive, Heather Du Quesnay, said the organisation was in the process of implementing an internet-based financial system that would show how schools spent their budgets.
'We're very strict over things like expenses,' she said. 'You can't put through a claim for expenses that you're not entitled to.'
She said the ESF hoped to do an internal audit of schools every two years.
Social welfare legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung questioned why the new board would not include a position for parents of children with special needs. Ms Du Quesnay said the board and school councils would be encouraged to invite experts as the need arose.
Catering sector legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who is a foundation member, called for the positions allocated for Legco members to be given to stakeholders more closely related to the ESF. He said he was unable to attend many meetings because of other commitments.
But a parent representative, Alex Chiu Chi-Suen, said he hoped the board would include Legco members. 'It's about monitoring the work of ESF because the ESF gets a subvention and Legco members are well-respected and they would act as independent monitors.'
ESF chairman Felice Lieh Mak said the organisation hoped the bill, which was formulated after the Public Accounts Committee called for reform of its governance in 2005, could be passed as soon as possible.