EOC chairman's budget too much for one-day seminar, say members
The chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission has been accused of being too extravagant in his spending on a one-day seminar on disability discrimination held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday.
An anonymous fax sent to the South China Morning Post yesterday indicated that commission chairman Raymond Tang Yee-bong had to reduce his proposed budget of HK$500,000 to HK$350,000 after other members of the commission disapproved of the amount.
They also queried why the commission had to pay for the transport and accommodation of about seven mainland guests who did not speak at the event, and for an assistant of a guest from the National People's Congress Standing Committee.
Lo Wing-lok, who has sat on the commission for three years, said many commission members did not support the HK$500,000 budget put forward by Mr Tang in December.
'Many of us felt that the budget was way too much for a one-day seminar,' he said. 'For example, do you really need to use rooms in the Exhibition and Convention Centre? I think we could have found a proper venue to host the event using one-third of the money we spent.'
Some members also felt the proposed budget on a VIP room for speakers to rest, a ramp for the disabled to go up the stage and for souvenirs and the backdrop were too extravagant, Mr Lo said.
'Since we were spending taxpayers' money, we felt we should spend it as efficiently and wisely as possible.'
Mr Lo said because of the many opposing voices in the December meeting, Mr Tang cut the amount to HK$350,000. The amended proposal was circulated among members via e-mail because of shortage of time.
'But at that stage, another question was raised regarding the invitation of the mainland speakers,' Mr Lo said. 'We agreed that we should pay for the transport and accommodation costs for those who spoke at the event. Only about four of 11 mainland guests would be speaking. Some members wondered why we had to foot the bill for the others as well.'
Another commission member, Mandy Tam Heung-man, said there was a conflict of interest in letting Mr Tang chair both the commission's secretariat and its monitoring body.
A commission spokesman said the original proposed amount was a rough estimate subject to discussion among the commission members. She said it was proper for the chairman to reduce the amount after considering members' views. The venue was chosen to cater for the special needs of the disabled attendants and speakers, she said.
Mr Tang, meanwhile, said the commission had told the government of a need for a separate fund for litigation. They could take few cases to court because of limited funds.
He said he hoped the government would allow them to keep some of the savings for litigation instead of returning it to the government.
He made the remark after being asked what kind of support the commission could offer to two elderly women and a deaf-mute person who had applied for legal aid to sue the Hospital Authority for infringing the Disability Discrimination Ordinance by requiring all public hospital patients to book visits on the phone.
Both the Society for Community Organisation and legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung urged the authority to allow people who could not use the phone to seek medical help using the old means - queuing.
Since the queuing system was abolished in October 2006, everyone who wishes to visit a public hospital clinic has to make an advance phone booking. This is to enable elderly patients to see a doctor without joining a long queue as early as 5am.