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LCQ14: Societies Ordinance
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     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (May 18):

Question:

     At present, the information to be submitted with an application for registration of a society to the Societies Office under the Societies Ordinance (Cap. 151) include the address(es) of the principal place of business of the society and its branch(es) and of the place(s) or premises owned or occupied by the society (registered addresses).  It has been reported earlier that the registered addresses of more than 1 000 societies are school addresses.  However, the principals of a certain number of the schools concerned have indicated that they have no knowledge about it and worry that some people may be mistaken that the operation of such societies has been approved of by the schools.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of societies registered under the Societies Ordinance, with a tabulated breakdown by type to which the premises of the registered address belongs (e.g. residential property, commercial building and school);

(2) of the number of notifications received by the Societies Officer in the past five years on registered societies having dissolved themselves;

(3) whether the Societies Officer has conducted sampling checks to verify the authenticity of the information pertaining to the application for registration of a society; if so, of the number of applications verified in the past five years; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) of the number of societies whose registrations were cancelled under the Societies Ordinance by the Societies Officer in the past five years;

(5) whether the Societies Office discovered, in the past five years, any case of the provision of false registered addresses in the applications for registration of society; if so, of the number of people involved and whether those people were prosecuted; if so, the punishments imposed on those convicted in general; and

(6) given that at present, the Societies Office makes public only the names and registered addresses of the societies and their branches which have been registered or exempted from registration, whether the Societies Office will consider making public more information about the registration of those societies, such as the dates of registration, the names of the office-bearers?

Reply:

President,

     The Government's reply to the Hon James To's question is as follows:

(1) As at April 30, 2016, there were a total of 37 318 societies in Hong Kong which have registered or have been exempted from registration under the Societies Ordinance (Cap 151).  The Societies Office does not maintain statistical breakdowns regarding the type of premises of societies' addresses.

(2) and (4) Section 14(1) of the Societies Ordinance provides that "if a registered society or an exempted society has subsequently dissolved itself, the persons who were the office-bearers of the society before such dissolution shall, not later than the expiration of one month after the dissolution takes effect, notify the Societies Officer of such dissolution in writing signed by one or more of the persons who were the office-bearers of the society immediately before the dissolution." Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 575 societies have dissolved themselves and notifications have been given to the Societies Officers under section 14(1).

     Separately, section 5D(1) of the Societies Ordinance provides that "the Societies Officer may, after consultation with the Secretary for Security, cancel the registration or exemption from registration of a society or a branch íV
(a) if he reasonably believes that the cancellation is necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others; or
(b) if the society or the branch is a political body that has a connection with a foreign political organisation or a political organisation of Taiwan."

     Between 2011 and 2015, no registration or exemption from registration of a society or a branch was cancelled by the Societies Officer under section 5D(1).

(3) and (5) According to section 5 of the Societies Ordinance, a local society shall apply to the Societies Officer for registration or exemption from registration within one month of its establishment or deemed establishment.  The application must be signed by three office-bearers and include details of the name, objects and particulars of the office-bearers of the society, as well as the address of the principal place of business of the society and of every place or premises owned or occupied by the society.

     In addition, under section 15 of the Societies Ordinance, the Societies Officer may, at any time, by notice in writing served on any society require the society to furnish him in writing with such information as he may reasonably require for the performance of his functions under the Ordinance.  In accordance with section 10 of the Societies Ordinance, where a society or its branch which has been registered or exempted from registration changes its name, objects, office-bearers or principal place of business or closes a branch which is registered or exempted from registration, the society shall within one month from such change, inform the Societies Officer in writing of such change.

     The Societies Office has formulated relevant guidelines for its officers to handle the above-mentioned applications.  Accordingly, officers will require an applicant to submit a copy of utility bill, a bank statement or a letter from the HKSAR Government to prove that the society's address is genuine.  If the society uses the address of another person or organisation (such as a school), the applicant is required to additionally submit a letter of consent from the owner or the person-in-charge of the premises concerned, which must contain the name of the owner or the person-in-charge, and shall be dated and signed.  The Societies Office will ask the applicant for explanation or clarification if there is any doubt about the information submitted by the applicant.  If an owner or person-in-charge does not agree for his address to be used as the principal place of business of a society, he may raise objection to the Societies Office.  Moreover, the Societies Office will take follow-up actions upon receipt of a report or complaint about a society's address or other matters.

     Section 16(3) of the Societies Ordinance provides that "if any information supplied to the Societies Officer in compliance with a notice served under section 15 is false, incorrect, or incomplete in any material particular, the person who has supplied such information shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $20,000 unless he establishes to the satisfaction of the court that he had good reason to believe that the information was true, correct and complete." Between 2011 and 2015, no case of provision of false addresses in applications for registration of society was found by the Societies Office.

(6) Under section 11 of the Societies Ordinance, the Societies Officer shall keep a list of all societies and branches which have been registered or exempted from registration setting out the names of the societies and the branches, as well as the respective addresses of the principal places of business of the societies and the branches and the places or premises owned or occupied by the societies.  Such list shall also be open to inspection by any person free of charge during office hours at the Societies Office.  To facilitate public inspection, the Societies Office has already uploaded the above-mentioned list onto the website of the Hong Kong Police Force.  Anyone who wishes to obtain other information about the societies may, under section 12 of the Societies Ordinance, make a request in writing to the Societies Officer, who shall consider the request in accordance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (Cap 486) and other relevant guidelines.

Ends/Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:06

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