LC: CS responds to Report No. 59 of Public Accounts Committee

     Following is the speech (translated from Chinese) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in response to Report No. 59 of the Public Accounts Committee in the Legislative Council today (May 22):


     Laid on the table today is the Government Minute (GM) responding to Report No. 59 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

     When presenting Report No. 59 on February 6 to the Legislative Council (LegCo), the Chairman of PAC gave comments on four chapters in the Director of Audit's Reports:

(a) Monitoring and reporting of air quality
(b) Implementation of air-quality improvement measures
(c) Regulatory control of private hospitals
(d) Land grants for private hospital development

     We are grateful for the time and efforts that the PAC has devoted to investigating these subjects. We accept the Committee's various recommendations and have set out in detail the specific responses of the relevant bureaux/departments in the GM. Today, I would like to highlight the key measures that we have taken in these important policy areas and the progress.

Monitoring and reporting of air quality and Implementation of air-quality improvement measures

     The current-term Administration is committed to improving air quality. The Chief Executive, in his first address to the LegCo on October 17, 2012, made it clear that public health is our primary concern when we formulate our clean air policy. Environmental protection carried significant weight in the Chief Executive's first Policy Address delivered on January 16, 2013. The policies on air quality improvement have been broadly welcomed by the community.

     The Environment Bureau released "A Clean Air Plan for Hong Kong" on March 28, 2013 to outline comprehensively and clearly the challenges Hong Kong is facing with regard to air quality. It also gives an overview of the relevant policies, measures and plans to tackle air pollution covering land and sea transport, power plants and non-road mobile machinery, as well as collaboration between Guangdong and Hong Kong to deal with regional pollution. Collaboration among various government bureaux and departments and the concerted efforts of different sectors will all contribute to attaining the goal of cleaner air and a healthier living environment for the public.

     The priorities of air-quality management initiatives are to improve roadside air quality, reduce emissions from marine vessels, and tackle the regional pollution problem in collaboration with the Guangdong authorities. The Administration's efforts in these three fronts are briefly set out below.

Improving roadside air quality

     To expedite the phasing out of heavily polluting diesel commercial vehicles, the Government has proposed to set aside $10 billion to subsidise owners of pre-Euro IV diesel commercial vehicles to replace the vehicles and to ban their use on road by phases. This will reduce the particulates and nitrogen oxides emissions by 80 per cent and 30 per cent respectively, and will go a long way in protecting public health. The Government also proposes to set a maximum service life of 15 years for newly registered diesel commercial vehicles. Consultation with the transport trades and other stakeholders is currently underway.

     A major cause of the roadside air pollution problem is the high nitrogen dioxide concentration which increased by 22 per cent between 2006 and 2010. To strengthen emission control on poorly maintained petrol and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles that emit nitrogen dioxide, from 2014, we will use roadside remote sensing equipment to detect those vehicles with excessive emissions, and will require them to be repaired. Before the deployment of remote sensing equipment, we will provide a one-off grant to help petrol and LPG taxis and light buses owners to replace once the worn-out catalytic converters of their vehicles. The replacement is expected to commence in the second half of 2013.

     With regard to bus route rationalisaton, in addition to the annual Route Development Programmes, a new "area approach" is being adopted, under which bus route rationalisation will be carried out on an area/district basis, instead of on the basis of individual routes. Emphasis is placed on the overall transport and environmental benefits that rationalisation proposals will bring to an area/district. Working in tandem, better arrangements for bus-bus interchanges will also be put in place to expand interchange network and enhance interchange facilities. More attractive interchange fare concessions will also be made available. The Administration will also pursue vigorously rationalisation plans of franchised buses and other road-based public transport modes as and when new railway lines are commissioned. It should be noted that the above air improvement initiatives represent not only the efforts of the Environment Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department, but also the full support from the relevant bureaux/departments.

Reducing Marine Emissions

     Marine vessels have become the largest source of local air pollutant. To further control air pollution from the marine sector, the 2013 Policy Address announced several new initiatives, including the plan to introduce new legislation to enforce the requirement of fuel switch at berth following the completion of consultation with the relevant stakeholders; promote the use of cleaner fuels among local vessels; and seek funding approval from the LegCo to install on-shore power supply facilities for use by cruise vessels at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. The Administration will continue to take forward these initiatives and report the progress to the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs at appropriate juncture.

     The Administration is also making efforts to expedite the legislative amendment exercises to reflect the International Maritime Organisation 2010 Standards relating to emissions from vessels; and to adopt in law the Ringelmann Chart as an objective benchmark for measuring dark smoke emission from vessels. Our target is to consult the LegCo Panel on Economic Development on the legislative proposals by June 2013.

Regional Emission Control

     In November 2012, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Guangdong Provincial Governments jointly announced a new set of regional emission reduction targets/ranges for 2015 and 2020 respectively. Both sides will implement additional reduction measures for the attainment of the emission reduction targets, which will bring continuous improvement to the regional air quality. We are also exploring with the Guangdong government to jointly introduce fuel switch at berth in Pearl River Delta (PRD) ports for maximising the environmental benefits in the PRD.

New Air Quality Objectives (AQOs) and Air Quality Health Index (AQHI)

     With regard to the updating of AQOs, we introduced the Air Pollution Control (Amendment) Bill 2013 into the LegCo on March 20, 2013. The Amendment Bill is being scrutinised by the Bills Committee. Subject to the passage of the relevant legislation, we expect the new AQOs to take effect in January 2014. To tie in with the implementation of the new AQOs, we will replace the Air Pollution Index system with a new health risk-based AQHI system. The new reporting system makes reference to relationship between local air pollution and hospital admissions, and thus provides a more useful reference from a health perspective for the public.

Regulatory Control of and Land Grant for Private Hospitals

     The Administration agrees with the Audit Commission's (Audit) and the PAC's comments. The Administration will strengthen regulatory control of private hospitals' operation and ensure that private hospitals granted government sites by private treaties comply with the land grant conditions.

     The Administration established a "Steering Committee on Review of the Regulation of Private Healthcare Facilities" (Steering Committee) chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health last October. The Steering Committee will conduct an overall review of the regulatory regimes for private hospitals among other private healthcare facilities, including enhancing the safety and quality of private healthcare services and better protecting consumer rights through greater price transparency. The review will make reference to the recommendations of the Audit and the PAC, in order to bring the regulatory regimes up to date and provide better private healthcare service to the community. The Steering Committee is expected to submit recommendations within this year. The Administration will conduct public consultation subsequently and commence the necessary legislative process.

     In the meantime, the Department of Health (DH) has tightened up the monitoring and regulation of private hospitals. DH has been working with the Lands Department (LandsD) and other relevant bureaux/departments closely to make sure that land grant conditions are properly complied with by private hospitals

     In respect of the administration of private hospitals' daily operation, DH has, in response to the audit recommendation, deployed a checklist to document inspections to private hospitals. Should any irregularities be found in inspections, DH would take appropriate regulatory action. DH will also carry out more in-depth analysis of public complaints lodged against private hospital services. If any serious non-compliance is identified during the analysis, regulatory action such as issue of advisory/warning letters would be taken. Furthermore, DH will issue advisory letter to any private hospitals which fail to report sentinel events to DH within 24 hours upon occurrence. DH will also continue to refer sentinel events suspected of contravening statutory provisions or of professional misconduct with significant public health impact to the relevant regulatory authorities for healthcare professionals for follow up. The Steering Committee will look into the suggestion of disclosing the identities of private hospitals where sentinel events are reported and the details of the sentinel events.

     Besides, the Steering Committee will deliberate on and look for ways to improve price transparency of private hospitals. Meanwhile, the Administration is encouraging private hospitals to put forth packaged pricing and quotation as far as practicable, in order to give consumers greater confidence in using private hospitals services.

     With regard to the monitoring of compliance with land grant conditions by private hospitals, I wish to emphasise that land is a scarce and precious resource in Hong Kong. It is the Administration's objective to utilise our scarce land resource effectively with a view to fulfilling the development needs of Hong Kong in the social and economic aspects and benefiting the wider public.

     LandsD will continue to support the Food and Health Bureau (FHB) and DH in implementing the Government's intention through land grants and other land transactions concerning private hospitals, as appropriate. LandsD and the Planning Department will also provide necessary assistance and support to FHB and DH in the course of planning for the disposal of land for private hospital development and considering applications for private treaty grants (PTGs) or other land transactions for private hospitals. In light of the PAC's recommendation, LandsD is developing a general protocol on matters related to the administration of PTGs for private hospital development at nominal or concessionary premiums, including division of responsibilities of bureaux/departments concerned.

     Regarding the monitoring and enforcement of land grant conditions, LandsD will step up its work and support DH's active monitoring of compliance with those lease requirements under the land lease related to hospital service. Lease enforcement actions will be taken as appropriate to ensure lease compliance and rectification of breaches of lease conditions.

     On DH's front, it will examine whether private hospitals have observed the relevant land grant conditions when conducting inspections to private hospitals. For those private hospitals bound by financially-related conditions under their land grants, DH has requested the submission of auditor's certification and financial information for examination. Suspected case of non-compliance will be referred to LandsD for follow up. Private hospitals are also required to apply to LandsD for any business arrangement relating to land grant conditions in accordance with the requirements of land grants. Furthermore, DH has been in discussion with the private hospitals concerned on the arrangement for providing free or low-charge beds, as well as means to increase the utilisation of existing low-charge beds. One of the hospitals concerned has provided 20 free beds to benefit a greater number of patients.

     The Administration will in due course incorporate conditions into the land grants of future private hospitals to effect the latest Government's intention. When granting sites for private hospital development in the future, the Administration will take into account the demand and supply and service requirements of the private healthcare sector in order to determine the suitable size of private hospital sites, the scale of development as well as hospital-related lease requirements.

     For the new private hospital to be developed on the Wong Chuk Hang site, the Administration has required the tenderer to incorporate a set of special requirements into the land lease and the service deed. Apart from offering packaged charge, the new private hospital will not be allowed to change the land use.

     The Administration is grateful to the PAC for its constructive comments and recommendations. The Administration will respond positively and implement necessary improvements as appropriate. The Administration will continue to safeguard public health and interest by assuring that private hospitals provide quality healthcare services to the community and those granted with government sites by private treaties comply with the relevant land grant conditions.

Ends/Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:38