Hong Kong’s welfare department gets a grilling for taking years to approve funding applications

In one extreme case, it took 7.5 years to green light a grant for a elderly welfare facility

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 April, 2017, 9:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 7:35pm

The city’s auditor has criticised the Social Welfare Department for taking far too long to process hundreds of grant applications for social projects.

In a report released Wednesday, the Audit Commission labelled the department as inefficient after it found 481 out of 2,338 grant applications, between April 2011 and September 2016, were not processed within the target time periods.

The department should process major grants of more than HK$400,000 within nine months and minor grants within four months. But it took two to 7.5 years to process 82 major grant applications and one to 3.6 years to process minor applications, according to the commission.

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In one extreme case, it took 7.5 years to approve HK$35.7 million of funding for the construction of three welfare facilities that would provide 120 service places for the elderly. The funding was finally approved in May 2012, 10 months after the project was completed in July 2011.

The commission said the long-overdue cases were “unsatisfactory”, and the department needed to install measures to ensure any funded project does not commence without first obtaining grant approval.

“The government should strengthen measures with a view to processing grant applications within the target completion time,” the auditor said.

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The criticisms came with the commission’s assessment of the management of the Lotteries Fund, which provides grants to social welfare projects and is financed by proceeds from the Mark Six.

Non-government organisations (NGOs), government bureaux or departments are eligible to apply for funding.

As of March last year, the Lotteries Fund had a balance of HK$22 billion with the department in charge of the approving grant applications.

By September 2016, 1,198 funded projects with approved commitments of more than HK$12.4 billion were in progress with HK$7.5 billion of that yet to be disbursed to the related NGOs or government departments.