Political faction leads welfare panel debate

AN acrimonious meeting of the Social Welfare Advisory Committee (SWAC) ended yesterday with the more politically minded members managing to push through an endorsement for more school social workers.

The meeting was the first chaired by new SWAC chairman Mr Eric Li Ka-cheung, who sided with the political faction of the committee.

Asked about accusations that SWAC was becoming too much of a political platform, Mr Li said: ''I live and work in a very political field every day. I've got no quarrel with that.

''We welcome all views from the community to deal with clients' needs. SWAC embodies a broad range of views from professionals, provided that they are balanced. We're interested only in the balanced view.'' Before stepping down as chairman last year, Professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun, said the committee should be scrapped because it was duplicating the Legislative Council's Welfare Panel.

Professor Chow said meetings had degenerated into political forums, where people who made the most noise prevailed.

Some of the 14 people around the table yesterday said that that happened when new member Dr Yeung Sum, of the United Democrats of Hongkong, banged his fist on the table and challenged the Government to provide more school social workers to help tackle teenage suicides.

He was quickly and loudly supported by fellow Legislative Councillors Mr Hui Yin-fat, Mr Fred Li Wah-ming, Mr Li, who is also a councillor, and academic Miss Agnes Ng.

Other members said later they had gone along with the proposal on the grounds that ''a quicker pace would mean the Government was attaching importance to the suicide cases''.

But they added that the political faction had been willing to sacrifice family programmes, rehabilitation and other services for the sake of a few more social workers, who might not solve the problem.

Dr Yeung believed additional resources should be made available to all services and the committee agreed to ask for unspecified additional money for welfare services.