LCQ1: Assisting District Council members in setting up ward offices
The current term of District Councils (DCs) has commenced since January 1 last year. However, it has been reported that a number of DC members have not yet set up ward offices in their constituencies. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the number of incumbent DC members who have not yet set up ward offices to date (with a breakdown by DC district), and the reasons for that;
(2) of the number of incumbent DC members to date who have sought assistance from the authorities for renting government lands to place containers converted for use as ward offices, and set out a breakdown of such number and their outcome by DC district; the number and details of those cases of the same nature in each of the past three DC terms;
(3) of the DC election constituencies in which currently there are no units of public rental housing estates available for use as ward offices of DC members (set out by DC district); the measures taken by the authorities to assist DC members of such constituencies in setting up ward offices; and
(4) whether the authorities will be more proactive in assisting DC members (especially those of the constituencies mentioned in (3)) to set up ward offices in their respective constituencies, to enable DC members to better and more conveniently serve the residents in their constituencies, such as by (i) taking new measures to assist DC members in renting idle government lands or offices of government departments/subvented organisations, (ii) providing additional rental subsidies for DC members who rent units in industrial and commercial buildings for use as ward offices, and (iii) allowing DC members to rent units in industrial buildings which are appropriate for use as ward offices?
Under the current mechanism, District Council (DC) members may set up ward offices according to individual operation needs. As different electoral constituencies and voters have different needs, DC members choose to set up their offices in different locations and in different modes.
(1) Since the commencement of the fifth DC term on January 1, 2016, among 458 DC members (including 27 ex-officio members), 447 have already set up ward offices and 11 of them have not yet set up ward offices, including two members who use addresses of their private offices as the correspondence addresses for council business, two members who do not provide correspondence addresses and seven members who applied to set up ward offices at different locations. A tabulated breakdown of the information by DC district is as follows:
|DC district||Number of DC members who have not yet set up ward offices|
|Sham Shui Po||1|
(2) To date, five DC members of the current term have sought assistance in renting government lands for container ward offices. In the past three DC terms, there were four members, all in the fourth term (2012-2015), who sought such assistance. A tabulated breakdown of the information by DC district is as follows:
|DC district||DC term||Number of cases||Remarks|
|Eastern||The fourth term (2012-2015)||1||Container ward office
has been set up.
|North||The fourth term (2012-2015)||1||Container ward office
has been set up.
|Yuen Long||The fourth term (2012-2015)||1||Container ward office
has been set up.
|Sha Tin||The fourth term (2012-2015)||1||The application was rejected by the Sha Tin District Lands Office in 2015.|
|Sham Shui Po||The fifth term (2016-2019)||1||558 submissions supporting and 1 001 objecting the application have been received. The case is still being processed.|
|Islands||The fifth term (2016-2019)||1||Two objections have been received. The case is still being processed.|
|North||The fifth term (2016-2019)||1||Seven submissions supporting, eight objecting and one indicating no comment on the application have been received. The case is still being processed.|
|Sai Kung||The fifth term (2016-2019)||1||Objection from a residents' organisation has been received. The case is still being processed.|
|Tai Po||The fifth term (2016-2019)||1||Four objections have been received. The case is still being processed.|
(3) According to the existing mechanism, the Housing Department would try to provide as far as possible suitable non-domestic units in public rental housing (PRH) estates at market rent for DC members to set up their ward offices during their term of office.
Out of 431 DC constituencies, there are PRH estates in 223 constituencies and there are no PRH estates in the remaining 208 constituencies. Of the 223 constituencies with PRH estates, DC members' ward offices have been set up in PRH estates in 200 constituencies, applications for setting up ward offices have been received in three constituencies, and no application for setting up ward office has been received in the remaining 20 constituencies.
(4) The Government provides an accountable Operating Expenses Reimbursement (OER) for DC members to meet expenses incurred in discharging council duties, including office rental and assistants' remuneration. In view of DC members' concern over the rising operational expenses, taking into account the increase in rents and other expenses, with effect from January 2014, the Government substantially increased the OER by 34 per cent in real terms, primarily for subsidising their office rental. The amount is also subject to annual adjustment based on the year-on-year change of the Consumer Price Index (A). The current amount of the annual OER claimable by each DC member is $474,108 ($39,509 per month on average, a 778 per cent increase compared to the amount in 1996 when the OER was introduced). DC members may also claim accountable Setting Up Expenses Reimbursement (SER) up to $100,000 during their terms of office. A new member or a member serving on consecutive terms but has not claimed the SER in the previous term is eligible to claim the full amount, while a member who has claimed the SER in the previous term is eligible to claim a maximum of $50,000.
Having regard to possible difficulties encountered by individual DC members when setting up their ward offices, the respective District Offices have kept a close watch of the situation and together with departments concerned rendered suitable assistance to DC members in need. As regards renting idle government lands or properties for setting up ward offices, an established mechanism is already in place to process relevant applications. Views of the government departments concerned and those in the neighbourhood are key considerations when applications for renting idle government lands are processed. Views of relevant bureaux and departments are the key consideration when processing applications for renting idle government properties.
We consider that there are many practical difficulties associated with the suggestion of providing additional rental subsidies to DC members who set up their ward offices in commercial and industrial buildings. As the rent of the commercial and industrial buildings in various districts depends on their location and quality, it is hard to determine a standard amount for the additional rental subsidies. Furthermore, DC members who do not set up ward offices in commercial and industrial buildings may consider it unfair, as even those DC members who set up ward offices in PRH need to pay market rent. Currently, there are quite a number of DC members who have already set up their ward offices in commercial buildings. Whether units in industrial buildings can be used as ward offices will depend on the relevant land lease and planning, building and fire safety requirements of these units, for instance whether convenient access is provided to members of the public. Relevant departments concerned have also established procedures to process applications for changing the use of units in industrial buildings.
Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:35
Issued at HKT 15:35