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Social Welfare Department's response to media enquiries

     Regarding the media enquiries today (March 1) about the humanitarian assistance services provided by the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK) for non-refoulement claimants, a spokesman for the Social Welfare Department (SWD) gave the following response:

     "Regarding the allegations by some petitioners from the Refugee Union today that the food assistance-in-kind provided by the ISS-HK for non-refoulement claimants (claimants) during their stay in Hong Kong is undesirable in both quality and quantity, the Administration has earlier obtained the expert advice of pediatrician and dietitian from the Department of Health (DH) regarding the choice, quantity and nutritional value of the food items.  The DH advised that the quantities and nutritional values of the food items are sufficient in general.

     The SWD has conducted in-depth investigations into over 20 complaints made by service users about the undesirable quality and quantity of the food they received. Investigation results showed that the complaints were not substantiated.  The SWD will continue to take each and every complaint seriously.

     The ISS-HK was selected by the SWD through open and fair tendering procedures as the service provider for assistance in the form of service-in-kind for the claimants.  The ISS-HK chose its food suppliers through tendering procedures and the process is governed by prescribed rules, e.g. assessment of the tenderers' operational ability, financial stability, management competence, efficiency and capacity in ensuring smooth services for a certain number of users.  The tender is conducted periodically and seven food suppliers are currently under contract agreement with the ISS-HK.

     In fact, notices are posted up at every food collection point to remind claimants to check the food items they receive and there is no time constraint for the checking. After checking, claimants will sign on the food list to confirm that they accept the quality and quantity of the food collected. If there is a problem, they may ask the food supplier for replacement on the spot.

     The SWD has a well-established regulatory mechanism to ensure claimants who are deprived of basic needs during their presence in Hong Kong could receive sufficient humanitarian assistance service, including food assistance-in-kind.  The ISS-HK is requested to provide service reports and financial statements to the SWD each month and to maintain all financial books and records ready for the Government's inspection at all times.  According to the contract, the ISS-HK is required to submit to the SWD an audited financial statement by a certified public accountant at the end of the contract period.  The SWD also conducts regular and surprise inspections at the ISS-HK's service units and food collection points to monitor its service performance in ensuring proper use of public money. No complaint concerning food quality and quantity was received during inspections by the SWD in the past.

     It is understood that reports have been made to law enforcement agencies about the alleged fraud in the food assistance-in-kind service and the matter is under investigation.  The SWD will keep in view the investigation results and take follow-up actions accordingly and as appropriate."

Ends/Saturday, March 1, 2014
Issued at HKT 21:08


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