Welfare groups hindered by reliance on taxpayers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 December, 2010, 12:00am

Welfare organisations are so reliant on taxpayer funding that only one in five feels able to formally monitor and comment effectively on government behaviour.

In the first survey of 244 of the city's 381 social service organisations, the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Civil Society and Governance found two-thirds felt they should be monitoring the government, but less than 1 per cent thought they did so 'very effectively', while only 20 per cent ranked themselves as 'effective'.

'Government funding is the major source of funding for welfare groups in Hong Kong,' Eliza Lee Wing-yee, director of the centre, said. 'You are not going to bite the hand that feeds you, right?'

Almost all the city's welfare organisations are subvented by the government - around HK$8.64 billion was allocated to them last year.

Budgets at welfare organisations varied greatly, from less than HK$48,000 to over HK$900 million per year, and the study found that the newer an organisation, the less government funding it received.

The average amount of government funding for organisations that had operated for less than 15 years was HK$1.59 million, while it was HK$2 million for organisations established between 15 and 20 years ago.

Organisations set up more than 20 years ago were said to receive much more government funding, but the centre could not provide specific figures.

Lee pointed out that nearly 40 per cent of the organisations were set up less than 20 years ago, and they faced a different operating environment from those encountered by the older organisations. 'They get less government funding, they are smaller in size and face more challenges in securing resources, but then they enjoy more autonomy than the older and larger organisations,' she said.

Newer organisations were vital, Lee said, 'because their proliferation represents the continuously changing needs of our community and contributes to the pluralism of our civil society'.

The study also found that organisations focused more on social service delivery but less on advocacy, and that less than 34 per cent of organisations participated in advocacy activities of any kind over the past 12 months.

'While providing services, welfare groups should take up more advocacy activities - they should be more critical of the government. It is vital for the development of civil society. It can arouse people's awareness on important issues that are ignored by members of the public,' Lee said.

The Hong Kong Council of Social Service's business director for policy advocacy, Chua Hoi-wai, agreed welfare groups did not do much advocacy but did not see it as a problem.

'The main function of welfare organisations is to offer services to the needy but not to be advocates or to monitor the government. It has nothing to do with their funding if organisations are scared,' he said.

'And for some specific topics, like caring for ethnic minorities and dole recipients, organisations also often campaign together to fight against the government.'