Speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs


Following is the full text of the speech by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr David Lan, at the Surveyors Luncheon of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors today (Tuesday):

Mr President, Members of The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to speak to you at this Surveyors Luncheon today.

It is my pleasure to address the Institute which I understand has a membership of some 2,500 surveyors engaged in professional activities in both the private and public sectors. Incidentally, one of your members, a Building Surveyor, works in my Bureau as Assistant Secretary for Home Affairs. Your Institute has actively participated in the first Building Management Resource Centre operated by the Home Affairs Department and has offered free professional advice to the Centre's clients. I take this opportunity to thank the Institute for your unfailing support which I trust will no doubt continue.

The topic of my speech today is "Follow-up to the Public Consultation on Proposals to Improve Fire Safety in Private Buildings - Amendments to the Building Management Ordinance".

As you are aware, Government issued a consultation document in June last year and conducted a two-month public consultation exercise. A wide range of bodies and organizations were consulted, including your esteemed Institute, the Legislative Council and its Panel on Security, 18 Provisional District Boards or their committees, over 50 professional bodies, interest groups, political parties and district organizations. The community is generally supportive of Government's various proposals to improve fire safety and building management of private buildings. We are now formulating detailed measures including legislation as necessary to bring the proposals to fruition.

The Home Affairs Bureau is also working with the relevant Bureaux and Departments to take forward the long term measures on building management as proposed in the consultation document. To give you an idea of the direction we are heading, we will introduce the following to improve the management and maintenance of private buildings:

*first, we will specify management and maintenance standards for compliance by owners' corporations and we will provide for sanctions against non-compliance;

*second, we will provide for a certification scheme whereby owners of certain problematic buildings are required to produce a certificate from Authorized Persons certifying that their buildings are free from fire hazards;

*third, we will introduce mandatory management of serious problematic buildings; and

*fourth, we will provide for automatic formation of owners' corporations in new buildings.

The implementation of these measures will require legislative amendments. The Building Management Ordinance which provides for the incorporation of owners of buildings and management of buildings will be amended to incorporate these proposals. Now I will outline some of the proposed legislative amendments.

On the specification of management and maintenance standards, section 18(1) of the existing Building Management Ordinance provides for, inter alia, certain obligations of an owners' corporation in relation to the management and maintenance of the common parts of the building. Briefly, an owners' corporation (OC) shall maintain the common parts of a building in a state of good and serviceable repair and clean condition, and shall carry out such works as may be ordered in respect of the common parts by any public officer in exercise of the powers conferred by any Ordinance. However, this provision describes situations that are general rather than specific in nature. It has not specified the standards of management and maintenance that are expected of an OC. Further, there is no sanction against an OC if it fails to fulfill its obligation of managing and maintaining the common parts of the building. We therefore propose to amend the Building Management Ordinance to provide for these shortfalls. Specific standards such as maintaining the means of escape in the common parts free from any obstruction and fire hazard will be clearly listed out in a Code of Practice referred to in the Building Management Ordinance for the OCs' compliance, and sanctions will be stipulated for non-compliance.

On the certification of buildings on fire safety, at present, there is no statutory requirement for owners to hire qualified professionals to inspect the common parts of their buildings for fire and building safety on a regular basis and to produce a certificate on safety. We believe that such inspections will help owners understand the safety conditions of their building and identify the remedial works required at an early stage. We therefore propose to introduce a statutory certification scheme whereby owners of certain problematic buildings are required to employ an Authorized Person, registered under the Buildings Ordinance, to inspect the common parts, including the means of escape, of their building and to certify that the building is free from fire and building hazards. A new provision will be needed in the Building Management Ordinance to take forward this scheme.

On the proposed mandatory management of problematic buildings, from the recent territory wide survey of buildings by the Fire Services Department, many buildings were found lacking in proper management. A properly managed building has lower fire risks. At present, there is no statutory requirement for owners of buildings to employ a building manager. We consider that owners of problematic buildings, as identified by the Director of Buildings or the Director of Fire Services, shall be compulsorily required to effect specific building management measures to improve the fire safety of their buildings. There would be clear sanctions stipulated in the law against non-performance. In addition, they will be required as necessary, to employ a building manager or a building management company with adequate and relevant experience. If they decline to do so, I, as the Authority, may appoint one for them and recover the costs and fees from the owners.

I will now turn to automatic formation of OCs in new buildings. The existence of an OC in a building will help improve the management of the building. However, the formation of OC under the existing Building Management Ordinance is entirely voluntary. While we will continue to encourage owners of existing buildings to form OCs, for new multiple ownership buildings we propose to introduce a mechanism whereby an OC will automatically be formed when the owners register their respective titles with the Land Registrar.

As regards timing we plan to introduce these amendments into the Legislative Council in the 1999/2000 session. Counting the time from today, we reckon that the whole process would take about 11 months. As practising professionals in the buildings and lands sectors, the implementation of the measures I have just outlined will no doubt involve your professional assistance and participation. I therefore urge you, both as an institute and as individuals, to support these proposals and to work with owners of private buildings in Hong Kong to improve the safety, management and maintenance of the buildings. We all have a duty to make Hong Kong a better and safer place to live in.

Thank you.

End/Tuesday, January 26, 1999