Hong Kong government lashed over ‘cumbersome’ procedures for seeking recycling fund money

Lawmakers say ‘consultants’ are profiting from system by offering applicants advice to overcome restrictive system

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 8:02am

The procedures for applying to the government’s HK$1 billion recycling fund are so restrictive and cumbersome that “consultants” have been having a field day offering help to aspiring applicants, according to lawmakers.

Concern about profiteering by private consultants came as the Legislative Council’s environment panel took officials and managers to task on Monday for the fund’s “unsatisfactory” performance as only a third of applications were successful.

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The Environmental Protection Department told the panel that out of the 2,000 businesses involved in recycling in Hong Kong, only 137 applications had been made and of this figure, just 48 involving HK$54 million had been approved.
“We had high expectations of the fund but from the figures provided, we can see that the fund isn’t performing that well as only 6 per cent of recyclers are interested,” said panel member Gary Chan Hak-kan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

He also pointed out that the fund’s secretariat, the Productivity Council, had been earmarked HK$80 million in operating costs, which included publicity and monitoring. “You are paying more in administrative costs than the amount of funding you are giving out,” he said.

You are paying more in administrative costs than the amount of funding you are giving out
Lawmaker Gary Chan

Pan-democrat Raymond Chan Chi-chuen questioned whether it was appropriate for consultants to be openly advertising plans to help applicants get funding. “In one case, a consultant helped two applicants get up to HK$9 million in funding,” he said.

“Of course we want more applications, but with the emergence of consultancy firms, those they help may take up a huge proportion of the funds approved. This may not be ideal.”

Productivity Council corporate services director Tony Lam said he knew there were “intermediaries” involved in helping applicants but stressed there were “no intermediaries authorised under the fund”. He urged applicants to call the fund’s hotline for advice.

Of the 48 successful applications, 41 were projects under the fund’s enterprise support programme, which targets and streamlines vetting for small and medium enterprises. The remaining seven were under the industry support programme, which targets non-profit groups, institutions and professional bodies.

Jimmy Kwok Chun-wah, who chairs the fund’s advisory committee, said many of the unsuccessful applicants had failed to provide all the required paperwork and information.

“It takes us two days to vet an application but if information is missing we cannot submit it to the application committee,” he said. “In some cases, applicants don’t even have an address for their operations.”

Catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan complained that his company had applied for funds in February, but it took eight or nine months to receive approval. “The process of applying is just too long,” he said.

Pan-democrats Kwok Ka-ki and Eddy Chu Hoi-dick questioned the fund allocation system, asking whether money was going to those in the industry who really needed it, including small frontline recyclers who were unable to squeeze profit from low-value recyclables.

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“In Hong Kong, recyclers are susceptible to global prices [as most recyclables are exported] and we don’t have a big enough local end market for recycled products ,” Chu said.

“Will the bureau consider setting subsidy levels so if global recycling costs drop to a certain level, the bureau can help?” he asked.

Launched last October, the objectives of the fund are to increase the quantity and quality of recyclables in the market, foster healthy and sustainable development of the industry and ultimately help ease pressure on the city’s landfills.

Deputy director of environmental protection Vicki Kwok Wong Wing-ki said: “We are trying to learn from our experiences over the past year and will keep an ongoing dialogue with the industry to learn how to improve the fund and respond to their needs.”