Funds for social needs bleeding cash

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 4:45am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 December, 2013, 4:45am

Several government funds that target specific social needs have not generated sufficient investment returns to stay afloat, official papers have revealed.

Of the 14 funds outside government accounts that were set up or topped up in the past five years, only four managed to cover their expenses with their investment returns or principal. That's according to a document submitted by the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau to the Legislative Council yesterday.

And while some struggled, the document showed that 23 funds had plenty of cash to spare. They amassed a combined total of HK$83 billion, but their expenditure was less than HK$3 billion.

The revelations prompted one lawmaker to question the government's approach in tying up such a large sum of public money for the funds.

Those that failed to sustain themselves included the colossal Community Care Fund, the Samaritan Fund, the Elite Athletes Development Fund and the Urban Renewal Trust Fund.

All of them rely on cash injections from the government to operate. Some of them suffered losses in the last financial year.

The Elite Athletes Development Fund, for example, has posted losses for the past few years. It racked up expenses of HK$163 million for the first half of the current financial year, from April to October.

But its income came to only HK$12 million - meaning a loss of HK$151 million.

The Language Fund, meanwhile, reported a HK$145 million loss for the 2012-13 financial year.

And the Cantonese Opera Development Fund posted a HK$12 million loss in the period from April to October.

The four exceptions - the funds that managed to sustain themselves - were the Research Endowment Fund, the HKSAR Government Scholarship Fund, the Environment and Conservation Fund and the Beat Drugs Fund.

Seven other funds that fall within the government accounts also had financial surpluses.

The bureau did not say if it was dissatisfied with the results.

But lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen lambasted the government over the revelations.

"The government should regularise certain expenses that are currently in the form of funding if it deems them socially desirable," he said.

Ip also criticised the government for spending for the sake of trying to reduce its own financial surplus - which stood at HK$64.9 billion last year.

"Even sweeteners for the general public don't absorb much of this giant surplus, so the government has had to come up with these funds in the past policy addresses or budgets," he said.

"But not all of these funds can generate money on their own; some are there just to spend money from the public coffers," Ip said.