Watchdog looks hard at Housing Society
By NG KANG-CHUNG
THE ombudsman has promised to consider expanding his jurisdiction to cover the Housing Society in view of mounting public criticism against the self-governing body.
The society, set up in 1948, has retained a low profile and attracted minimal public attention until recent years when it was appointed to run the sandwich-class housing scheme.
Critics have pointed fingers at the society after the deadly landslip in July at its property in Kwun Lung Lau Estate, Kennedy Town. Five people were killed.
Initial inquiries suggested the collapsed retaining wall could have been too thin, despite the society's claim that inspections showed it to be safe.
The society is not under the jurisdiction of the ombudsman, nor is it responsible to the Executive or Legislative councils.
A spokesman for the ombudsman, whose official title is the Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, said: 'We are constantly collecting public views from various channels, including those expressed in newspapers.
'Our power has been extended to cover the Housing Authority. At present, the Housing Society is not under our jurisdiction. But the commissioner will examine all the views and take them into account when he is reviewing his jurisdiction.' Housing groups and legislators welcomed the move.
But the society's corporate communications manager Philomena Li argued the society was a non-profit-making, private organisation.
'We publish annual reports each year and regularly invite the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption to review our operational procedures. We believe we are open enough and there is enough monitoring,' she said.
But the chief executive of Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy, Virginia Ip Chiu-ping, said: 'Being a non-profit-making organisation is not an excuse for evading public monitoring.' Legislator Frederick Fung Kin-kee said: 'I find it hard to be convinced that a body that is using taxpayers' money and enjoying cheap land granted by the Government can say it is private.' The vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, Leung Kwong-cheong, said the society should follow the Housing Authority model to allow public representatives to be elected to its governing body.
The authority, led by Executive Councillor Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, requires members to declare interests.
A spokesman for the Planning Environment and Lands Branch said there was no plan for a monitoring system for Housing Society.
'The society is an independent organisation. And, in case it is necessary - for example for the sandwich-class housing scheme - the society is required to report regularly to the Government,' she said.
THE HOUSING AUTHORITY Twenty-one members, four ex-officio, all appointed by the Governor after consulting officials; Legislators, district board members, and tenants' representatives appointed to the council; Term of office is two years, but is normally extended unless a member rejects re-appointment or resigns; Seven standing sub-committees with independent professionals invited to decide on policies of housing development, building programmes, finance and establishment, and rents and estate management; Members must declare interests, including directorships of companies and share-holdings of more than one per cent; Governed by the Housing Ordinance; Under the jurisdiction of the ombudsman and Audit Department; Its executive arm - the Housing Department - is responsible to the public; Financially independent, but the Government can take back its surpluses to the general revenue to fund other public services; Helps the Government carry out its long-term housing strategy THE HOUSING SOCIETY Nineteen executive committee members with three serving government officials, all invited by executive committee members themselves; Most members are prominent figures in the construction sector. No public representative; The term of office of the chairman, elected by the committee members, is three years, but membership for other members can be life-long; Members nominated to join the five sub-committees, which decides buildings and tenders, development, finance, administration, and estate management policies; No rigid requirement for members to declare interests; The Hong Kong Housing Society Incorporation states that it is to be governed by its own constitution; Not under the jurisdiction of the ombudsman or Audit Department; its accounts are checked by an independent auditor; Its executive arm serves as an administrative office of the executive committee;