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LCQ18: Disbursement of Salaries Grant to aided schools for payment of acting allowances to teachers

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Kin-yuen and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     Under the existing arrangement, teachers of aided schools who have taken up acting appointments for 30 calendar days or more are entitled to acting allowances, and the schools concerned may apply to the Education Bureau (EDB) for Salaries Grant (grants) for payment of acting allowances. Some teachers have relayed to me that the EDB has made quite a number of mistakes in disbursing such grants, including failure to verify, before disbursement, if the amounts that the schools applied for were correct. I have learnt that after the introduction of an additional computer system on April 19, 2013, the EDB began to implement, on a trial basis, a set of establishment pre-check procedures and proceeded to review previous acting appointment cases, thereby discovering erroneous disbursement of grants in the past. There are cases involving erroneous disbursement of grants for years (as long as a decade), and cases involving erroneous payment of acting allowances to several teachers of the same school. As a result, the schools and teachers concerned were required to return a huge amount of money. Section 13.2(c) of the Code of Aid for Aided Schools (Release 1.10) provides that "in the event of overpayment, the Education Bureau will adjust any overpaid salaries identified in the next immediate subvention payment to the school concerned. The school should recover any such overpayment from the relevant staff and bear any loss if irrecoverable". Besides, under the Limitation Ordinance (Cap. 347), certain actions shall not be brought after the expiration of six years from the date on which the cause of action accrued (six-year limitation rule). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of cases uncovered by the EDB in each of the past five years in which grants were erroneously disbursed to schools for payment of acting allowances to teachers, and the number of teachers involved; whether it knows, among such schools, the number of those which were unable to recover the erroneously paid acting allowances from the teachers concerned, the reasons concerned and the maximum amount of money involved;

(2) in respect of the cases mentioned in (1), of the longest time lapsed from the EDB's first erroneous disbursement of grants to the school concerned to the discovery of the error, the number of such cases in which six years or more have lapsed, and the number of teachers involved; whether the EDB has completed reviewing those cases involving payment of acting allowances prior to April 19, 2013; if the EDB has not, of the number of remaining cases and the estimated time needed to complete the review of them;

(3) of the workflow, prior to the introduction of the additional computer system on April 19, 2013, followed by the EDB to verify the eligibility of the teachers concerned for receiving acting allowances, and the time limit for completing each step in the workflow; given that the EDB has introduced the additional computer system, whether the EDB can ensure that the relevant verification work will be completed in the same school year in which the applications are received; if the EDB cannot, of the reasons for that;

(4) whether the EDB has consulted the Department of Justice on the applicability of the aforesaid six-year limitation rule to the aforesaid cases of recovery of acting allowances erroneously paid/grants erroneously disbursed; if the EDB has conducted such a consultation and the outcome is in the affirmative, whether the six-year limitation period commences on the date on which the error was first made; if not, how the EDB calculates the six-year limitation period;

(5) of the number of schools in the past five years whose subvention was adjusted by the EDB due to overpayment of salaries, the total amounts involved, and the amount involved in the case with the largest rate of adjustment; and

(6) of the number of cases in the past five years in which the EDB was unable to recover from the schools concerned the grants erroneously disbursed and the reasons for that, as well as the total amount of money involved?



     The background information provided in the question raised by Hon Ip Kin-yuen does not fully reflect the prevailing arrangements in respect of application for payment of acting allowances by aided schools. In this connection, I would provide an overview of the existing mechanism adopted by the Education Bureau (EDB) for disbursement of Salaries Grant, including acting allowances, to schools and the school-based arrangement as follows:

     An aided school is the employer of its teaching staff and the incorporated management committee (IMC) or school management committee (SMC) of the school is delegated with the authority to approve matters related to the appointment, acting appointment, promotion and re-grading of teachers in accordance with the conditions and requirements provided in the Codes of Aid. In assessing the salaries and acting allowances of their teachers, aided schools are required to comply with the Codes of Aid, Guides to Salary Assessment and relevant the EDB circulars, etc. They are not required to seek prior approval from the EDB. This arrangement has been in place since 2000.

     As an established practice, to avoid any delay in the payment of salaries (including acting allowances) to teachers, the EDB disburses Salaries Grant to schools according to their salary assessment before verification, taking into account the schools' confirmation in the relevant application forms that their arrangements are in compliance with the approved teaching staff establishments and relevant requirements of the EDB, and their agreement to refund any overpayment of Salaries Grant. In case any errors are subsequently found in the salary assessment (including the acting allowances) made by schools, the EDB will require the IMCs or SMCs concerned to make clarification and rectification. Regarding cases of erroneous payment of salaries to teachers by schools, the EDB will liaise with the schools concerned for recovering the overpaid amount to ensure proper use of public funds.

     My reply to the question raised by Hon Ip Kin-yuen is as follows:

(1) to (3) According to the Codes of Aid, teachers approved by the IMCs or SMCs of their schools to take up acting appointments to fill approved functional posts of a higher rank for a qualifying period of 30 calendar days or more are entitled to an acting allowance. As mentioned above, when vacancies of a higher rank arise, whether or not to arrange acting appointments is a school-based decision which does not require the prior approval of the EDB. As to the disbursement of acting allowances, schools have the responsibility to ensure all the aforementioned provisions are complied with in the arrangement of acting appointments. Nonetheless, for any suspected cases of overpayment of acting allowances owing to mistakes made by schools in their approvals for acting appointments, the EDB will follow up the matter and request the schools concerned to refund the overpayment of grants.

     In 2013, the EDB introduced the Entitlement Checking System for conducting pre-processing checking on staff appointments under the Salaries Grant (including acting appointments, among others) put up by aided schools to see if they are within their corresponding approved entitlements of relevant ranks of the schools concerned. If the total staff strength of the relevant rank (including the acting appointments put up) exceeds the total approved entitlements of relevant ranks of the schools concerned, the system will reject the appointments in question immediately. For appointments successfully passing the said entitlement checking, the relevant employment particulars will then be transmitted to the Salaries Grant System for payment processing of Salaries Grant to schools. In the course of checking, we have found some suspected cases of overpayment of acting allowances, of which 34 cases have been confirmed and follow-up actions have been taken. The schools concerned have refunded the overpaid amount according to relevant stipulations. They are not required to inform us of the detailed arrangements made with teachers concerned in respect of recovering the overpayment of acting allowances. We will continue to follow up other suspected cases. In principle, verification of applications for acting allowances can be completed within the same school year under the existing arrangements.

     Concerning the figures on the time lapsed from the EDB's first erroneous disbursement of Salaries Grant to schools to the discovery of the error, the number of cases, the number of schools and teachers involved and the amount of money involved, as requested in (1) and (2) of the question, I would like to clarify that all applications for acting allowances are put up by schools. If any cases of overpayment of acting allowances owing to mistakes made by schools in their approvals for acting appointments are found, the schools will be requested to refund the amount overpaid to them. However, the EDB does not compile the annual statistical figures for the required breakdown, and the relevant information is therefore not available.

(4) According to our understanding, the relevant provisions of the Limitation Ordinance are applicable to legal actions in general. Schools are required to refund the overpayment of acting allowances arising from erroneous assessment, regardless of the causes and duration of the overpayment.

(5) Information on the required statistical figures is not available for the reasons mentioned above.

(6) Any overpayment of Salaries Grant arising from erroneous assessment of teachers' salaries by schools has to be refunded to the EDB. There are no cases in which the EDB failed to recover from the schools erroneous payment of Salaries Grant.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Issued at HKT 16:18


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