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LCQ8: Elderly Commission

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (April 22):


     Some members of the public have relayed to me that the Elderly Commission (EC), which is responsible for advising the Government on the policy for the elderly, operates in a "black box" without any transparency, and some of EC members are often absent from its meetings, leading to an imbalance in the elderly policy.  For example, 19,006 elderly people had passed away while waiting for places in subsidised care and attention homes as well as nursing homes in the past five years.  Those persons have also alleged that EC lacks credibility as some EC members have calculatedly steered the elderly policy in such a way as to transfer benefits to the companies in which they hold shares or the organisations in which they are employed.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the Government will open all EC meetings to the public from now on, and allow members of the public and deputations to observe the meetings; if so, when this will be implemented; if not, of the reasons for that;

(b) why the Government stopped publishing the minutes of EC meetings on its web site from the 52nd EC meeting in 2007 onwards; apart from releasing brief press summaries, whether the Government will immediately publish on its web site the minutes of all EC meetings (including the voting results on each policy item) in the past three years to enable the public to find out and understand the rationale of EC members during the discussions, and the bases upon which EC used the terms such as "welcomed" or "pleased to note"; if so, when such an arrangement will be made; if not, of the reasons for that, and whether there is any secret which cannot be made public;

(c) of the number and rate of attendance at EC meetings as well as the number of absence from EC meetings for all EC members (including government representatives) in each of the past five years, broken down by their names;

(d) of the attendance rate of the representative from the Education Bureau (EDB) in each of the past five years, and the Government's reason for removing the EDB representative from the membership list of EC starting from 2009; whether such a change will have any impact on the implementation of the Elder Academy Scheme; if so, of the impact; if not, the reasons for and the purpose of appointing EDB representatives to EC in the first place;

(e) whether it knows which companies or institutions providing elderly or rehabilitation services whose shares had been held by EC members or their family members in the past five years; which of the above types of companies or institutions have employed them to hold remunerated or non-remunerated posts; of the titles of their relevant posts; whether such companies or institutions have received any direct or indirect monetary benefits or subsidised services from the Government; if they have, of the names of such companies or institutions, as well as the details of the relevant monetary benefits or services and the amount of government funding they received annually;

(f) of the amount of government funding received annually since the 2006-2007 financial year for the Elderly Academy Scheme by the education institution in which the EC Vice-chairman is employed and the duration of the funding period; and

(g) whether it knows, since the 2006-2007 financial year, if there were/are EC members or their family members with shares of the Oasis Nursing Home in Wong Tai Sin; if so, of the names of the EC members concerned, as well as the amount of government funding granted to the nursing home annually since that financial year, and the duration of the service contract awarded to it?



     The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region made "Care for the Elderly" a strategic policy objective in 1997 to improve the quality of life of our elderly population and provide them with a sense of security, a sense of belonging and a feeling of health and worthiness.  The Elderly Commission (EC) was established in the same year.  Its main task is to provide advice to the Government in the formulation of a comprehensive policy in caring for the elderly.  EC members include professionals from elder-related services and other sectors, academics and community leaders.  Recently, the EC has focused its efforts on promoting "active aging" and advising on the means to further enhance long-term care services for the elderly.  

     My reply to the question is as follows:

(a) and (b) The EC always conducts its meetings in an open and transparent manner.  Prior to each meeting, the agenda will be uploaded onto the EC's website (  A press briefing will normally be held and a press summary issued immediately after the meeting to explain the matters discussed at the meeting.  The EC's minutes will also be uploaded onto the EC's website for public inspection after confirmation by the Commission.  Through the above measures, the EC has provided effective channels for the public and stakeholders of elderly services to keep abreast of its operation and decisions.  For the time being, we do not see the need for the EC to open up its meetings to further enhance the transparency of its work.

     In accordance with the arrangement above, the minutes of the 52nd to 56th EC meetings have been uploaded onto the EC's website.  

(c) Record of attendance of the official and non-official members at EC meetings in the past five years is at Annex.

(d) One of the tasks of the EC is to advise the Government on the formulation of a comprehensive policy for the elderly including matters relating to the care, housing, financial security, health and medical, psychological, employment and recreational needs of the elderly.  When the EC was established in 1997, the then Secretary for Education and Manpower or his representative was an ex-officio member of the EC, responsible for advising on matters relating to elderly employment.  Following the reorganisation of the Government Secretariat on July 1, 2007, manpower planning has come under the portfolio of the Labour and Welfare Bureau (LWB).  As a result, the Secretary for Education or his representative is no longer an ex-officio member of the EC.  The record of attendance of the then Secretary for Education and Manpower or his representative at EC meetings since 2004 is at Annex.

     Although the Secretary for Education is no longer an EC member, this has not affected the implementation of the Elder Academy Scheme.  The Education Bureau (EDB) is in fact very supportive to the Scheme, and has been working in cooperation with LWB to facilitate the implementation of the Scheme.  With the support of EDB and other relevant organisations, the Scheme has been successfully implemented.  To support the long-term development of the Scheme, the Financial Secretary has agreed to earmark $10 million in the 2009-10 financial year and work with various stakeholders to co-sponsor and establish the Elder Academy Development Foundation.

(e) EC members are appointed on an ad personam basis.  As the EC is tasked to advise the Government on the formulation of a comprehensive policy for the elderly, it comprises members engaged in elderly services who can advise on this area of work from the sector's perspective.

     According to information available to LWB and the Social Welfare Department (SWD), in the past five years there were incumbent or former EC members who were employees of SWD-subvented organisations, operators of contract residential care homes for the elderly (RCHEs) or private homes for the elderly participating in the Enhanced Bought Place Scheme. As SWD considers funding applications and awards service agreements/contracts according to a set of objective criteria for the respective services, and that the EC is not involved in the process, the status of the aforementioned EC members has not affected the amount of funds allocated by SWD to the organisations concerned nor SWD's decision to award service agreements/contracts to individual organisations.

     Besides, the "one-tier reporting system" of the Government applies to the EC.  If a member perceives the issue to be dealt with at a EC meeting will give rise to a conflict of interest, he/she has to declare to the Chairman of the meeting his/her interest in the matter.  The declaration will be put on record.

(f) To encourage elders to engage in lifelong learning so as to promote active ageing and enable our senior citizens to lead an enriched life, the EC launched the Elder Academy Scheme in early 2007.  In February 2007 and June 2008, it openly invited all secondary and primary schools to apply for setting up Elder Academies in partnership with social welfare organisations.  Before deciding on whether or not to approve the applications and the amount of funds to be granted, the EC assessed the proposals submitted by the schools with respect to the course content, the number of learning places, school facilities, the numbers of hours available for elders' learning at the school each week, measures to promote the concept of inter-generational harmony, as well as the experience of the partnering social welfare organisations in providing elderly service.  Based on the above assessment criteria, four secondary/primary schools under the same education body as the tertiary institution for which the incumbent EC Vice-chairman is working have each been provided with $60,000 to establish Elder Academies.  The amount of funds is the same as that provided to the other 42 schools whose applications were approved in the same period.

     In late 2007, the EC also invited tertiary institutions to take part in the Scheme to help elders realise their dream of "studying in universities".  The EC assessed the course format and content, related activities and the number of learning places set out in the proposals submitted by the tertiary institutions before deciding on whether or not to approve the applications and the amount of funds to be granted.  So far seven tertiary institutions have submitted proposals to the EC.  The EC has approved the seven applications based on the above assessment criteria and decided on the amount of funds having regard to the scale and duration of the proposals.  The tertiary institution for which the incumbent EC Vice-chairman is working is one of the successful applicants and has been granted $100,000, $175,000 and $150,000 in the three financial years starting from 2007-08 respectively for the implementation of the Scheme.

(g) Since 2001, the Government has been selecting the operators of purpose-built RCHEs through open tenders with a view to enhancing the service quality of RCHEs, encouraging innovative and value-added services, and achieving cost effectiveness.  Under the new arrangement, SWD will conduct open tendering exercises for individual purpose-built RCHEs soon to be completed. Organisations with experiences in operating RCHEs (including non-governmental and private organisations) can participate in the tendering exercises. Upon receiving the tenders, SWD and concerned departments will select suitable operators based on a set of open assessment criteria. The criteria cover various aspects, including the tenderers' past performance in operating RCHEs (e.g. the number of warnings and advisory letters received from the SWD); whether the internal designs of RCHEs proposed by the tenderers are conducive to the provision of a safe environment which promotes harmony among elderly residents and protects privacy; tenderers' expertise in handling common diseases or accidents of elders (e.g. bedsores and falls); plans for infection control and crisis management; value-added services to be provided by the tenderers, as well as human resource arrangements and management, etc.  Whether the tenderers or individual shareholders of the tendering organisations have joined any Government advisory bodies is not a factor for consideration by the Government.  So far, SWD has awarded through open tenders 16 contracts for operating purpose-built RCHEs, including that for operating the Oasis Nursing Home.  The contract period for operating a purpose-built RCHE is normally five years.  Subject to the performance of the operator, SWD may consider renewing the contract with the operator for a maximum of five years.

     As for the amount of subsidies, SWD will allocate subsidies to contract RCHEs on a monthly basis according to the number of elders allocated to the concerned home from SWD's Central Waiting List.  Therefore, the amount of subsidies allocated to an individual contract RCHE is determined by the actual number of elders occupying subsidised places in the concerned home.  In the 2008-09 financial year, the average monthly subsidy of a subsidised place in contract RCHEs was $5,900.

Ends/Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Issued at HKT 11:16


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