Unfair lump-sum grant system is hampering work of NGOs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2008, 12:00am


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I refer to the letter by Ng Hon-wah ('NGO grants need flexibility for wages', May 9) and wish to put the issue into its proper perspective.

Your correspondent pinpointed that some agencies pay lower salaries and use the saved money to hire more staff than approved.

The fact is that extra staff are needed for ever-expanding social needs, especially those of a growing elderly population. Some non-governmental organisations try to recruit professional fund-raisers, but they do so out of a necessity to balance their books and fulfil their entrusted responsibility. Your correspondent asked the underpaid social workers to 'turn to their respective agencies' for revising their salaries; to whom should the hard-pressed agencies turn?

While agencies should justify a higher level of services than allowed by the lump-sum grant, this is easier said than done. Applications for new services are vetted with strict rules, with grants given only to the lowest bidders. Your correspondent's call for the grant to be adjusted upwards is valid.

He is also right in saying that agencies, whose senior social workers' salaries exceed the mid-point scale, deserve flexibility in having their salaries adjusted. With reduced subventions and salaries, disgruntled members of staff are carrying heavy workloads. This will eventually lead to a wastage of experienced personnel needed to handle complicated casework and crisis situations.

For decades, the NGOs have been pioneering and providing the bulk of Hong Kong's social services, giving taxpayers value for money. They are putting up with stringent resources, unequal salaries and unnecessary administrative duties imposed upon them by the lump-sum grant system.

In the face of these constraints, there is no room for agencies to exercise 'autonomy'. As a Chinese saying goes: 'A clever housewife cannot cook when there is no rice in the house.'

In view of the anomalies of the lump-sum grant system, the government should stop passing the buck to the NGOs. It should take up the ball now, in order to halt a further drain of social workers from the voluntary sector.

Patsy Leung, Mid-Levels