Officials blamed the 1997 handover as well as missing documents for some private hospitals having not been required to set aside 20 per cent of their beds for the needy.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man and Development Secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, made the comments yesterday while being questioned by a Legislative Council committee about the Health Department's failure to monitor and enforce the land-grant conditions on some non-profit-making hospitals.
The issue arose during a hearing of Legco's Public Accounts Committee when Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit criticised the government for not imposing a low-cost bed requirement on some hospitals when they were granted land leases.
Leong was reacting to last month's report by the Director of Audit, which criticised the government for not ensuring that non-profit-making private hospitals lived up to the conditions of their land grants.
One of these conditions was that 20 per cent of beds at the hospitals in question had to be set aside as either low-cost or free for the use of needy Hongkongers.
Leong pointed out that the hospitals had been granted their land free or at a nominal cost, under a government policy that had been formulated in 1957 and further modified in 1981. "The grantees were required to provide free or low-cost beds. Why were these provisions not lived up to?" he asked.
Explaining why Precious Blood Hospital in Kowloon did not have a low-cost-bed requirement imposed on it when its lease was renewed in 1997, Ko said: "The government needed to comply with the Sino-British Declaration, which said that the administration had to ensure a smooth handover of government in 1997, at the time Precious Blood Hospital applied for its lease renewal."
Another non-profit private facility - Evangel Hospital - had few beds, so the requirement was not imposed at that time.
Chan said it was difficult to answer specific questions about the land-grant requirements on some hospitals, since many of the relevant documents could no longer be found.
Lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun, of Kowloon East constituency, said the Health Department should not shoulder all the blame. "The Lands Department did not follow up after the government granted the lands, to ensure that the grant requirements were lived up to," Tse said.