Schools urged to stop taking supply favours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 July, 2008, 12:00am

ICAC bid to create a graft-free service contract environment

Local aided schools should stop their long-time practice of receiving donations or sponsorships from contracted suppliers to achieve a graft-free environment, the ICAC says.

It was one of the measures suggested to the Education Bureau last year after the Independent Commission Against Corruption conducted a study of trading operations by government-subsidised schools.

Carmel Chow Jun-lung, group head of the corruption prevention department, which launched the study, said these trading operations included approving tenders for the supply of lunch boxes, textbooks and school uniforms, and what bus service was used.

According to figures released by the watchdog, corruption complaints involving the education sector had risen by just over 25 per cent from 62 in 2006 to last year's 78, of which 53 reports could be pursued.

In the first five months of this year, 24 complaints were reported, marking a small rise of two cases compared with the same period last year. Under the Education Ordinance, the schools' management committees are authorised to approve such business activities independently, while any donations received must directly benefit students.

Mr Chow said a majority of complaints involved school management allegedly benefiting during the tendering process. But this could be prevented if schools rejected donations or rebates.

He said one of the schools interviewed had rejected donations from a textbook retailer and it had resulted in an improved discount for students from 10 to 18 per cent off. The 8 per cent difference could amount to more than HK$100,000. 'In the long run, the donations or sponsorships will be shouldered by the parents or students who paid.'

Louisa Tsang Yee-ling, an assignment officer in the department, said the practice was unfair to the parents or students who had subscribed to the services. 'Even if the donations are used directly for the students' benefit, it will be akin to some students subsidising others who have not subscribed to those services.'

But Mr Chow said the practice had existed for years and it would take a long time to change it.

Apart from donations, the report also suggested how parent-teacher associations should handle business contracts. It suggested measures to improve confidentiality as tenders were being sought.

A spokesman for the Education Bureau welcomed the suggestions and said they would provide further guidelines for schools in handling trading operations.

Meanwhile, the ICAC will step up a study on the contracts to supply lunch boxes to schools. This was prompted by a Health Department survey three months ago that found some suppliers had pressured schools with donations of up to HK$1 million in return for contracts.

'These donations mean either a price rise for lunch boxes or a lower quality of the food,' said Mr Chow, adding that it would meet the schools and suppliers to set out possible measures by the end of the year.