Speech by SLW at Annual General Meeting of International Social Service HK Branch (English only)

    Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Annual General Meeting of International Social Service Hong Kong Branch today (November 13) (English only):

Dear CP (HO), Stephen (Yau), ladies and gentlemen,


     Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the International Social Service (ISS) Hong Kong Branch.  The ISS has provided Hong Kong with half a century's exemplary services.  It has also been one of Government's closest partners in serving our community.  Let me salute and pay warm tribute to the ISS for its commitment and good work.

     Since I took office as Secretary for Labour and Welfare in July, I have been reaching out to welfare NGOs, eager to hear their views and establish closer ties with them.  For I firmly believe in engagement, and after all, social service is about relationships V about people helping each other and people working together to help others.  If I may take this further, the society itself is but an interwoven network of human relationships.  The question for every government is how best to create the right conditions for people to interact in a positive manner, so that individuals will benefit and the society will prosper.  That is why the HKSAR Government attaches such great importance to promoting social harmony, with the society's basic unit - the family - at its very core.

Family services

     In providing family and child care services, we do not seek to take over from parents their child rearing responsibilities, but rather to empower them to better address their family needs.  I am glad that on this front we have the ISS as a major service provider.

     ISS now runs two Integrated Family Service Centres (IFSCs) in two of the districts with the greatest service needs, namely Sham Shui Po and Tin Shui Wai which is a focus of Government and public attention right now.  By providing a continuum of preventive, developmental and therapeutic services, the two IFSCs provide timely support to families in need. In 2006-07, the two IFSCs handled over 1 000 cases requiring different levels of intervention, organised more than 200 groups and programmes, and received over 22 000 walk-in visitors.  With the growing complexity of family and social problems, the pressure on our frontline workers is huge.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication and professionalism.

External services

     Family relationships do not stop at the border.  Nor do the ISS' services.  A major strength of the ISS lies in its being part of a well- established international social service network.  It is the only agency commissioned by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to provide inter-country casework service to assist families with social problems arising from geographical separation.  Services include social assessment, counseling, tracing, etc. In 2006-07, the ISS handled over 240 such cases.

     The ISS is also one of the two agencies accredited by the SWD to handle inter-country adoption cases.  In 2006-07, the ISS handled 79 such cases and found homes for eight local children who had difficulties in finding a permanent home in Hong Kong.  For children in need of temporary out-of-home care, the ISS operates foster care and small group home programmes.  The care and protection offered by such services are vital to the healthy development of these children.

     Our elders also benefit from the ISS network.  The ISS is appointed as SWD's agent to help implement the Portable Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (PCSSA) Scheme.  It provides a range of services to elderly CSSA recipients who choose to retire in Guangdong or Fujian Province on the Mainland.  Under the Scheme, the ISS conducts annual checks on PCSSA recipients and handles enquiries from the recipients or their relatives on the Mainland.  Supported by the ISS's professional service, the Government can ensure that the financial and welfare needs of some 3 200 PCSSA recipients are being taken care of.

Partnership with NGOs

     The ISS is the Government's major partner in the provision of welfare services. It is a partnership that has taken many years to develop and one that we dearly cherish.  Nowadays, NGOs provide over 90% of welfare services in Hong Kong, and we sincerely wish to strengthen our partnership with every one of them.

     In the past ten years, the amount of subvention provided by SWD to NGOs has increased by 50%, from about $4.5 billion in 1997-98 to $6.8 billion in 2007-08.  Excluding the expenditure on social security, the allocation for subvented services accounts for nearly 70% of SWD's estimated recurrent expenditure in 2007-08.  There is no question about the important role that NGOs play in the development of social services in Hong Kong.

     Our partnership with the welfare sector is maintained at the central, district and case levels.  Effective communication is an integral part of it.  For instance, NGOs are closely involved in the cross-service district welfare coordination mechanism which has been introduced to various districts in phases from 2006 to help prioritise service provision and enhance service coordination.  There are also other specific liaison groups on particular issues, such as child abuse and domestic violence, across different service levels.  

     I understand that the sector as a whole is concerned about the challenges it faces in implementing the Lump Sum Grant (LSG) subvention system.  This is understandable because 163 out of 174 subvented NGOs have voluntarily opted for LSG, and 99% of SWD's baseline recurrent subvention is given out under the LSG mode.  The Director of Social Welfare (DSW) and I have been engaged in regular discussions with stakeholders to understand their concerns.  DSW has also re-convened the LSG Steering Committee to consider how best the Government may assist.

     Very soon, we will also be engaging the sector in a study on the long-term planning for welfare development in Hong Kong.  The Chief Executive has undertaken to do this in his Election Manifesto.  This study will be conducted through the Social Welfare Advisory Committee, which we will consult in the first instance towards the end of this year.

Partnership with other sectors

     Many people tend to think that welfare service is a matter for the Government and NGOs.  They may not realize that they themselves also have a significant role to play.  I do not mean just giving out money on flag selling days V this is of course a commendable act of charity, but it is not the only way that one may contribute.

     In recent years, the Government has been promoting tripartite partnerships.  We encourage the business sector and the Third Sector to join us in the provision of social support services.  The $300 million Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF) which promotes mutual assistance and social capital, the $200 million Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged which provides matching grants to donations made by business corporations for welfare projects, and the promotion of corporate volunteering by SWD are all means to this end.  For the same reason, SWD has been funding the Hong Kong Council of Social Service to implement a Caring Company Scheme which awards companies willing to take up corporate social responsibilities.

     The ISS has first-hand experience in the positive outcomes of such joint ventures.  Last year, the ISS received $1.2 million from CIIF for a three-year project called "Genuine Heroes" (u߭^) seeking to weave mutual-support networks inrealise Tin Shui Wai.  The progress is impressive - within a year, the project has attracted over 15 local groups as partners and mobilized over 230 volunteers from different background, including women, students, new arrivals, retirees, professionals, etc., all united to make Tin Shui Wai a caring and vibrant community.

     The value of such projects lies not in the initial seed money that CIIF provides.  Even the most generous donations will not help the vulnerable stand on their own feet in the long run if we position ourselves merely as money-givers, rather than enablers.  And yet, when people are strategically connected and willing to contribute their talents for the common good, much greater synergy is achieved.  People who used to be passive service recipients could themselves become contributors and helpers.  And they will know that they are not alone.  There will always be a supportive neighbourhood for them to count on, like having an extended family to back them up in times of need.  In this light, CIIF and simobilisedmilar social capital development projects bear the true mark of social services V they get people working together to help people.  The empowerment of individuals, the social integration and meaningful relationships forged through these projects are invaluable.

     Such is the impact when all of us act in concert for a noble cause.  And this is also how I see Government's partnership with the welfare sector.  Frontline workers, NGO managements and the Government are here in the welfare service for the same mission, which is to work together to serve people in need.  Our responsibilities are heavy and our challenges are huge.  But let us all rise to the occasion with a strong sense of confidence, solidarity, and unity of mind and purpose.  By working closely together, we should be able to serve better.

     Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Issued at HKT 20:10