District councillors may get 20pc more in rent subsidy

A plan to increase district council members' remuneration to help them tackle rising costs will be tabled to Legco by year-end, source says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 May, 2013, 4:21am

The government is set to improve district councillors' remuneration packages, and this could include a HK$6,000 rise in their operating expenses subsidy to help them with their office rent.

A source close to the government revealed that by year-end, a proposal would be tabled to the Legislative Council's finance committee, and if accepted, the improved terms could be in place by January.

The changes would affect the more than 400 district councillors citywide.

The source said the Home Affairs Bureau was currently conducting focus groups among the councillors, and one of their main issues of concern was rental increases. The rise in rents put a huge financial burden on the councillors, who had to set up offices in their districts.

"We are very much aware of the concern, and one of the solutions is to increase the operating expenses reimbursement so that they can have more flexibility to cover office rental and other expenses, such as assistants' salaries," the source said.

It was understood the government was considering raising the subsidy by 25 per cent, bringing it to HK$30,000 a month.

This would cost the government an additional HK$30 million a year.

A district councillor's current operating expenses subsidy worked out to about HK$24,000 a month, according to the bureau. The subsidy was provided on top of the councillor's monthly salary of about HK$22,090, it said.

District Council constituency lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said there was a pressing need to improve district councillors' remuneration. "It's almost impossible for us to make ends meet if we are to serve the community properly," said Ip, a member of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

"We cannot keep our experienced staff in the long run without decent pay.

"We also have to pay the office rent out of our own pockets if it's located within private premises," he said.

Ip said the government should consider providing subsidies for office rental within private premises, as the supply of office space in public housing estates was simply insufficient to meet the demand.

He also suggested that each district councillor be given a new subsidy of HK$10,000 in a four-year term for them to use on exchange trips overseas.

The councillors currently had to finance all their overseas trips out of their own pockets, the lawmaker said.

But the source close to the government said Ip's suggestion to use taxpayers' money to fund exchange trips for councillors was unlikely to be taken up.

"We have to consider the public's impression of whether it is appropriate for the government to sponsor district council members for overseas trips," the source said.