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LCQ4: Elderly Commission

     Following is an oral reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, to a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung in the Legislative Council today (April 29):


     Some members of the social welfare sector have relayed to me that the appointment of some members of the Elderly Commission (EC) is the result of political deals, that the EC Vice-chairman has served on EC for almost 10 years, which is against the rule that, in general, a non-official member of an advisory or statutory body should not serve in that capacity for more than six years, and that some EC members have calculatedly steered the elderly policy in such a way as to transfer benefits to the private homes for the elderly under the Enhanced Bought Place Scheme, which are not well received by the elderly, thus benefiting some of the EC members who run such homes.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of criteria adopted by the Government for selecting EC members, and whether it will consider the comments of the public and the sector on the performance of the prospective appointees in public offices and consult the Hong Kong Council of Social Service or various elderly services agencies before making the appointment; how the background and qualifications of the various serving EC members meet these criteria; of the reasons for not re-appointing the two members whose appointments ended in July and August last year and when their vacancies will be filled;

(b) whether it will immediately terminate the appointments of the EC Vice-chairman and those EC members who run private homes for the elderly; if so, when their appointments will be terminated; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) what measures the Government will adopt to address public concerns about the use of EC members' appointment as a bargaining chip for political deals and transferring benefits and to enhance EC's credibility; whether the Government will consider appointing, as ex-officio EC members, members of the Panel on Welfare Services of this Council, the elderly, as well as representatives from the Legal Aid Department, Hong Kong Police Force, Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Hong Kong Medical Association, Pharmaceutical Society of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Occupational Therapy Association, Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, Hong Kong Psychogeriatric Association, Hong Kong Dental Association Limited, Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, Agency for Volunteer Service, Guardianship Board and elderly bodies, so that they may assist the Government in formulating elderly policies from a professional point of view and reflect public opinion; if it will, when these people will be appointed; if not, of the reasons for that?



     I gave a written reply to the question asked by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung on matters relating to the appointments to and business of the Elderly Commission (EC) on April 22.  In response to his oral question today, I now provide further information on the appointment arrangements for the EC.

     The EC was established in 1997.  It is mainly tasked to advise the Government on the formulation of a comprehensive policy for the elderly.  In making appointments to the EC, we follow the Government's general guidelines for appointment of members to advisory and statutory bodies (ASBs).  According to the guidelines, the basic principle adopted in making appointments to ASBs should be to appoint individuals on their merits so as to secure the services of the most suitable persons to meet the requirements of the bodies concerned and ensure that their composition can broadly reflect the interests and views of stakeholders in the community.

     In the process of making appointments, factors such as the candidate's ability, expertise, experience, integrity and commitment to public service (e.g. with reference to his/her track record in public service and other community services) as well as the functions and nature of business of the advisory bodies will be taken into account.  As a general rule, the Government will not consult public bodies on the appointment of individual candidates so as to avoid causing embarrassment and inconvenience to candidates who are not eventually appointed.  Such consequences may dampen their incentive for participation in public service.  The current composition of the EC includes members from the health care, social welfare, elder services, professional and academic sectors.  They all have experience in other community services.

     As in the case of many other Government ASBs, EC members are appointed on an ad personam basis.  Generally speaking, appointing ASB members on an ad personam basis can more effectively uphold the principle of selection on merits and allow them to contribute their talent, expertise and experience without constraints.  It also enables a more diversified composition of membership while minimises the possibility of conflicts of interest.

     On the question of the operation of private homes for the elderly by some EC members, as clearly explained in my last reply, we expect EC members who are engaged in elderly services to offer advice from their practical experience in the sector.  As the Government considers funding applications and awards service agreements/contracts under an open and transparent system and in accordance with a set of objective criteria, and as the EC is not involved in the process, the status of the concerned EC members has not affected the Government's decision to award service agreement/contracts to individual organisations.  If a member perceives any conflict of interest, he/she has to declare such interest accordingly.

     As regards the terms of office of EC members, according to the guidelines, a non-official member of an advisory body normally should not serve more than six years in any one capacity.  In accordance with this rule, two EC members were not re-appointed when their terms expired last year.  In general, we will consider re-appointments of individual members only when their terms of office are about to expire.

     The guidelines also stipulate that where a member is appointed to a different post (for example, as chairman or vice-chairman) of an advisory body, such an appointment should be regarded as a new appointment and the six-year rule will apply afresh.  As the incumbent EC Vice-chairman was appointed to the post of Vice-chairman on July 30, 2005, the tenure of his new appointment should count from 2005.

     In summary, EC members are appointed by the Government in accordance with the guidelines.  Over the years, the EC has implemented a series of programmes to benefit the elderly, such as the Elder Academy Scheme which promotes lifelong learning among the elderly; the Neighbourhood Active Ageing Project for reaching hidden elders and launching preventive efforts against elder abuse and suicide through neighbourhood support networks; the Integrated Discharge Support Programme for Elderly Patients which provides support services to elderly dischargees; and the Care Enhancement Pilot Project for Aged Care which provides skills enhancement training for current health workers.  All of these bear witness to the EC's efforts and contribution on elderly services.  I firmly believe that the EC will continue to follow its established guiding principle in promoting the welfare and well-being of the elderly.

Ends/Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:31


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