Centralised interpreting centre suggested for ethnic minorities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2008, 12:00am

A centralised interpreting service centre should be set up for ethnic minority citizens, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau has suggested.

This would be among the four ethnic minority support centres proposed in Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah's budget in February, which the government is asking non-profit organisations to set up.

With the centres planned for different districts across the New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, the bureau said yesterday that only one should provide interpreting services.

Seven languages - Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Nepali, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia and Thai - were being targeted, to interpret between those languages and Chinese and English, the government said in an invitation document to non-governmental organisations.

It also said the services would be primarily provided via telephone, while the availability of on-site interpreting would be subject to resources and advance booking.

Jonathan Chan Ching-wa, senior service co-ordinator of Hong Kong SKH Lady MacLehose Centre, which has been providing minority-language interpreting services at hospitals since June, said the proposal was inconvenient for users.

'The idea of establishing one single super-centre is unreasonable ... all fire reports are made at one emergency number of 999, but can one fire station put out fires for all districts?'

Mr Chan added that his group had not yet decided whether to make an application to run a centre under the scheme.

Fermi Wong Wai-fun, campaign director for ethnic minority concern group Unison Hong Kong, said a lack of competition and exchange among centres would also hinder the improvement of interpreting service quality.

A spokesman for the bureau said setting up a centralised centre would be more cost-effective and also pragmatic.

'Otherwise each of the four centres will have to recruit a large number of interpreters in different languages,' she said.

The government has earmarked HK$8 million for start-up costs and HK$16 million for operating costs in subsidies for the four centres.

The bureau will hold a briefing session on the plan with non-profit organisations tomorrow.