THE Hongkong Government should spend more money on counselling to convince boat people to return to Vietnam, even though it is still owed $545 million by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to a legislator. Martin Barrow will urge the Security Branch next week to apply for funding for more counsellors - particularly Vietnamese who have been back to Vietnam - to speed up clearance of the camps. Hongkong is already owed $545 million by the UNHCR for its part as a port of asylum for refugees under the Comprehensive Plan of Action. ''But spending a bit more money encouraging people to go back faster could save in the long-term on the cost of keeping them here,'' Mr Barrow said. ''If [legislators] are asked to approve more money for more counsellors there is a good chance they will do it. ''Hongkong recently voted $15 million for aid in Vietnam, which would have been unheard of a few years ago in the middle of the crisis. But everyone is anxious to see a resolution of the problem soon.'' Mr Barrow sympathised with the Government and UNHCR decision not to approve a proposed forum on human rights and refugee concerns in the detention centres on the grounds that it might raise false hopes. ''But I am not happy with what they have been doing so far. They have only 27 counsellors working with 40,000 boat people, and this is clearly not enough,'' said Mr Barrow. He said the counsellors should include more trusted Vietnamese who had been back to Vietnam. ''They can tell the stories about what Vietnam is like, warts and all,'' he said. A leading international refugee concern group, the Indochina Resource Action Centre, also called for the involvement of ''message-bearers'', who were more trusted by camp residents. However, the group also called on the UNHCR and the Government to reconsider the forum proposal. The group's president, Dr Le Xuan Khoa, said from Washington that the Government and UNHCR had misunderstood the intent of the forum, which had been proposed as a ''constructive approach to resolve the situation of Vietnamese asylum-seekers''. Two other groups, Refugee Concern and Oxfam, had hoped to hold the forum at the Whitehead and Tai A Chau centres on July 2 and July 5, respectively, to involve concern groups and boat people in discussions. The talks were to have been about human rights, returnee monitoring and uncertainty about issues such as whether non-refugees would be granted refugee status for political activities after screening, which could lead to persecution if they returned home. Detained Vietnamese had lost trust in the Government and the UNHCR, so intensifying an information campaign could not work without participation by non-government groups, overseas Vietnamese and boat people themselves, said Dr Khoa. He said all the groups should co-operate in an all-out effort so that ''this sad chapter of history can be closed in good conscience''. ''We perceive this as the last and most significant episode in the 18-year tragedy of the Vietnamese boat people. ''The Vietnamese asylum-seekers, many of whom are women and children, have suffered too much and too long. It is clearly not in their interest to stay locked behind barbed wire indefinitely.'' He said a co-operative approach could result in successful voluntary repatriation with returnees confident of their safety, and more re-integration programmes by non-government groups and overseas Vietnamese. Co-operation also could ensure a fair review of the small percentage of cases unjustly rejected in screening or deserving special UNHCR consideration. It could create better living conditions in the centres, and more emphasis on programmes to help volunteers prepare to return home, Dr Khoa said.