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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong officials’ ‘lax’ monitoring of taxpayer-funded social welfare NGOs blasted

Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee calls for better system to keep an eye on groups receiving lump sums from Social Welfare Department

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 7:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2018, 11:17pm

Lawmakers expressed concern on Wednesday about the government’s “lax” supervision of groups it pays to provide social services such as caring for the elderly and rehabilitating drug addicts.

The Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee called for a proper and transparent monitoring system to help the Social Welfare Department spot underperforming organisations.

The committee also aired its dissatisfaction with a six-year delay in the department enforcing guidelines that require government-supported NGOs to review and disclose top employees’ pay annually.

The panel’s report came in response to an earlier Audit Commission investigation, which found the annual deficits the subsidised NGOs incurred increased in total by nearly 60 per cent to more than HK$57 million (US$7.3 million) in the previous financial year.

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The commission also criticised the department for subsidising 14 agencies in full, despite them failing to meet performance targets five years in a row.

The subsidy system, introduced in 2001, provides lump sums to NGOs to help pay salaries and other costs not covered by the groups’ service fee incomes. By April last year, 165 NGOs received the payments. The system has been under review by a government-appointed task force since last year.

The public has been concerned that the system benefits only those at the top at the expense of the frontline staff of NGOs
Lam Cheuk-ting

An earlier system gave cash to NGOs by reimbursing costs retrospectively.

Handing the report to the full Legislative Council, the committee said it acknowledged NGOs were given autonomy and flexibility under the system. But it said it was equally important for the government to create a proper accountability mechanism to ensure proper use of public money, “with performance standards clearly stipulated for effective evaluation”. 

“The public has been concerned that the system benefits only those at the top at the expense of the frontline staff of NGOs … yet the department has failed to monitor the situation,” legislator Lam Cheuk-ting said, referring to the delay in requiring NGOs to disclose senior workers’ pay.

Committee chairman Abraham Razack said that “people are the most valuable assets of NGOs” and quality service should not be compromised.

The report highlighted that staff turnover was on the rise among subsidised groups, urging the department to look more proactively at their pay structures.

Shiu Ka-chun, legislator for the social work sector, welcomed the committee’s suggestions, saying unequal salaries among social workers from NGOs and the government was one of the main problems with the lump sum system.

He called on all social workers to gather outside Legco on May 14, the day of a public hearing on the system, to demand better conditions for frontline workers.