Deal for force causes concern

Linda Choy

LEGISLATORS are concerned by the Government's plans to cut the police force's budget, even though 381 more officers will be on the payroll.

At least eight departments suffer cuts in the Financial Secretary Mr Hamish Macleod's estimates of expenditure for the next financial year, but law enforcement fares badly.

The police allocation is cut by $54 million, or 0.74 per cent, the unit which supervises the investigation into complaints against the force loses four of its 25 men. Meanwhile, the tax man has to do with $3 million or 0.45 per cent less, and the Consumer Council loses $83,000 a year.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is given an extra $6.6 million, a rise of only 1.8 per cent, while other departments enjoy rises of up to 80 per cent, with overall expenditure growing by the target of five per cent in real terms.

Police operations dealing with illegal immigration, major disasters and terrorism will be the worst hit by the budget constraints.

These sectors have had $12.8 million trimmed from last year's $722.7 million, allowing for a reduction of 188 posts and less spent on rewards and special services, such as expenses during undercover work.

The slashing of the police budget is in contrast to police figures showing an increase in the force's effectiveness.

The number of crimes solved, particularly violent crimes, had improved and there had been a significant rise in prosecutions on traffic and drug-related offences last year.

The United Democrats questioned the savings on police and the ICAC, saying both were vital to the social order of Hong Kong.

Legislator Mr To Kun-sun said: ''I cannot refrain from asking the Government: Is corruption no longer a problem in Hongkong?'' He said he could not understand the dropping of four officers from the Police Complaints Committee, when effectiveness in dealing with public dissatisfaction with the force had been challenged recently.

Meeting Point legislator Mr Fred Li Wah-ming said the Government should not cut financing for the Consumer Council and the Inland Revenue Department, whose roles had become more important during the past year.

Mr Li said he was disappointed because the Consumer Council had begun a review on fair trade and the Inland Revenue had started a field audit system to help recover huge sums in tax.

He also warned that maintaining the five per cent ceiling on expenditure increases would put the government in a difficult situation later when the airport project began to have an effect.

The police had $7.37 billion for the current year, but now receives $7.32 billion.

The number of police jobs will increase from 32,800 in 1992 to 33,181 this year, and the ranks will swell to 33,355 by the end of 1994.

A $16.9 million fall in the funds listed under police deployment of uniformed officers from $4.543 billion to $4.527 billion is, however, said to be due to an exceptional $229 million being allowed last year for new Marine Police launches.

The two remaining sectors - traffic operations together with crime prevention and public co-operation - will see a combined $88.3 million rise from the current year's $2.1 billion to $2.2 billion, with 86 new posts and increasing staff increments responsible.

Most of the new police officers will be destined for the New Territories and will help relieve the demands on auxiliary police.