Outgoing social services chief urges break-up of asylum welfare contract

Outgoing social services chief says HK$203 million asylum seeker welfare contract would be better spent with more competition involved

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 5:29am

The outgoing head of the Council of Social Service has called for the break-up of the lucrative multi-million dollar welfare assistance contract for asylum seekers.

Chief executive Christine Fang Meng-sang said the HK$203 million contract, which is run exclusively by the International Social Service Hong Kong (ISS-HK), would be better spent if more competition was brought into the programme, including drawing on the experience of competing NGOs.

"There is one contract, but there is a possibility of breaking it [up] into smaller contracts." Fang said.

"There are corporations among NGOs sharing good practice and advancing the issues [facing asylum seekers] together in terms of advocacy, improving policies and service provision."

She said competitive bidding for services was common in Hong Kong.

Fang said bringing in more competition would foster transparency and increase scrutiny, helping to avoid the problems that appeared to hamper ISS-HK's efforts to fulfil its role in welfare management.

"There is always more room for improvement [at ISS-HK]," she said. "The stories unveiled various issues that they have to be answerable to and it is the responsibility of the government to monitor the services."

She was referring to stories which appeared in the Post in September in which the Social Welfare Department admitted the ISS-HK was housing clients in homes not fit to live in.

The Security Bureau and the Social Welfare Department are due to overhaul the social welfare package for asylum seekers by the end of October.

When ISS-HK asked more than 110 asylum seekers to move out of their accommodation they refused to move because the homes, one of which was a former pigeon shed, were relatively cheap.

At the time Adrielle Panares, ISS-HK's migrants programme director, insisted no asylum seeker was living in inappropriate housing.

"We are continuously monitoring the conditions of the clients, as per our practice" she said.

A previous investigation found hundreds of asylum seekers living in squalor in outlying areas of the New Territories. Rooms had no toilets or fresh drinking water, but were paid for and approved by the ISS-HK.

Panares told local media she wanted to see a rise in rental allowance for asylum seekers, but failed to detail specific demands.

Aleta Miller, the executive director of the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, said the break-up of the welfare contract was "a good idea to explore".

But Miller added: "Does a charity want to provide a package that they don't think is adequate? The reality is we have to find organisations that are able and willing to provide these services [to asylum seekers]. There is different expertise in the community in areas of the service provision package."