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LC: CS presents Government Minute in response to Report of Public Accounts Committee No. 65

    Following is the speech (translated from Chinese) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Carrie Lam, in presenting the Government Minute in response to the Report of the Public Accounts Committee No. 65 in the Legislative Council today (May 25):


    Laid on the table today is the Government Minute (GM) responding to Report No. 65 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

    When presenting Report No. 65 on February 17 this year to the Legislative Council, the Chairman of the PAC gave comments on four chapters in the Director of Audit's Reports:
(a) The Government's efforts in managing municipal solid waste;  
(b) Reduction and recycling of food waste;
(c) Use and disposal of vacant school premises; and
(d) Operation of Hongkong Post.
    I am grateful for the time and effort that the PAC has devoted to investigating these subjects.  The Government accepts the PAC's various recommendations and has set out in detail the specific responses of the relevant bureaux/departments in the GM.  I agree with the concerns expressed by the PAC.  The departments concerned should demonstrate greater determination to formulate more realistic plans and make sustained efforts to implement the recommendations.  As the Chief Secretary for Administration, I will oversee the follow-up actions of the departments and co-ordinate inter-departmental issues in a stricter manner.  Now, I would like to highlight the key measures that the Government has taken in the four policy areas investigated by the PAC as well as the progress.  

The Government's efforts in managing municipal solid waste and reduction and recycling of food waste

    As pointed out by the Chairman of the PAC, the management of municipal solid waste and reduction and recycling of food waste are related.  To address these two issues, the Environment Bureau (ENB) has published the "Hong Kong Blueprint for Sustainable Use of Resources 2013-2022" and "A Food Waste & Yard Waste Plan for Hong Kong 2014-2022" respectively. The ENB holds the view that there are no deficiencies in these strategic plans which spell out clear targets, but would endeavour to constantly review the policies and initiatives to ensure that they are responsive to the new challenges posed by social development and monitor their effectiveness. The ENB and the Environmental Protection Department would proactively follow up on the recommendations of the PAC with a view to addressing more effectively this problem which affects urban development of Hong Kong and disturbs the daily lives of residents.

    Collaboration among relevant government departments and active participation of various stakeholders and the public is essential to the effective implementation of our waste management policies.  To strengthen our work in this area, we are drawing expertise from different sectors of the community through various advisory bodies such as the Advisory Committee on Recycling Fund, the Steering Group on the Modification of Recycling and Refuse Collection Facilities in Public Places, and the working group under the Environmental Campaign Committee, with a view to mobilising various sectors of the community to join efforts in waste reduction and support the implementation of the relevant measures.  To better implement the various action plans on waste reduction and recycling, the Government attaches great importance to strengthening the co-operation among relevant bureaux and departments, as well as to promoting and implementing the policy measures at different levels.  We have hence strengthened institutional support within the Government.  For instance, the Steering Committee to Promote Sustainable Development of Recycling Industry (the Steering Committee), chaired by me, will oversee inter-departmental efforts to formulate more pragmatic policies to upgrade the recycling trade and ensure the smooth delivery of the relevant supporting measures, and to promote waste reduction and recycling through our complementary efforts on enhancing public education and publicity.  The Steering Committee has already convened four meetings and I have tasked the Secretary for the Environment to make better use of this platform, so that divergent views on waste reduction and recycling of relevant departments can be escalated early to the Steering Committee for discussion and for steer from senior management.

Use and disposal of vacant school premises

    With regard to the "Use and disposal of vacant school premises", the Government is actively taking follow-up actions to further improve the mechanism for maintaining the relevant database on vacant school premises (VSPs) and handling of individual VSPs.

    Firstly, the Education Bureau (EDB) has improved and updated the database of VSPs to clarify the definition of VSPs that need to be handled.  This would allow the EDB to adopt a more focused approach in taking appropriate follow-up action in respect of VSPs. The EDB is also drawing up an internal manual to clearly set out the detailed procedures in the identification, categorisation, earmarking and allocation of VSPs for school or other educational uses, and handling of cases with physical possession not delivered to the Government for all relevant EDB sections to follow.  The manual is expected to be completed in June 2016.  Furthermore, in order to make the database of VSPs more comprehensive, the EDB has completed a stocktaking exercise to reconcile the records in the database of VSPs and over 3 000 records in the school registration database so as to identify cases of VSPs which were possibly missed out, and is following up on the cases.  Relevant findings are set out in the GM.

    The Government will continue to handle VSPs with the policy objective of putting them to gainful use.  If the EDB, after taking into account various relevant considerations (including the size, location and conditions of the school premises concerned), confirms that a premises concerned is no longer required for educational use, the EDB will notify the Planning Department (PlanD) and other relevant departments through the central clearing house mechanism as soon as possible.  PlanD may then identify suitable long-term alternative uses for the VSP or the land on which the VSP is located.  Relevant bureaux/departments would, with reference to the actual situation, seek to identify and arrange suitable temporary or short-term uses of the VSP for gainful use of land resources.

    While aiming to put VSPs to gainful use as soon as possible, the EDB needs to earmark/retain some VSPs to address various and changing educational needs, including the anticipated demand for school places, reprovisioning of existing schools to improve their learning and teaching environment or decanting use by schools undergoing in-situ redevelopment or extension works.  Hence, it is neither feasible nor appropriate to impose any fixed target on the period or number of VSPs retained by the EDB.

    Disposal of VSPs on private land is one of the major concerns. The EDB has discussed with the Lands Department (LandsD) on the mechanism to handle these cases and strengthened mutual communication and co-operation.  If it is confirmed that a VSP or a to-be-vacant premises is required for school use, the EDB will contact LandsD to discuss and explore feasible ways to regain possession of the school premises in accordance with the provisions of relevant contracts, e.g. whether the land
lease contains a land use restriction clause and cessation/diminution of user clause, etc.  We have to emphasise that the Government needs to consider each of the cases involving a VSP with physical possession not delivered on its own merits, and will, based on the needs, recover possession of the land as far as practicable in accordance with the provisions of the relevant contracts (including land leases, tenancy agreements or service agreements).

    The EDB will report the implementation progress of the recommendations to the PAC.

Operation of Hongkong Post

    Lastly, regarding the operation of Hongkong Post (HKP), the Government accepts the comments and recommendations made by the Audit Commission and the PAC.

    It is the Government's established postal policy to provide the public with a reliable, efficient and affordable postal service.  As a trading fund, HKP operates on a self-financing basis and is required to achieve a reasonable return, as determined by the Financial Secretary, on the fixed assets employed.  This arrangement allows HKP to more flexibly manage its resources, formulate appropriate business strategies in response to changes in the operating environment and continuously enhance its service quality.  By providing a diverse range of postal services that address the needs of the general public and the business sector, HKP seeks to achieve the Government¡¦s postal policy objectives.

    With the rapid development of the local logistics and courier industry in recent years, HKP faces keen market competition.  At the same time, it bears the responsibility to discharge the Government's universal postal service obligation.  It is not an easy task for HKP to make ends meet.  In 2014-15, the Post Office Trading Fund (POTF) achieved a turnaround in its financial performance and was in the black again.  This demonstrates the proactive effort made by HKP in coping with the changing operating environment through rigorous cost management and business development, such as provision of e-commerce support services to local small and medium-sized enterprises.  HKP will keep up its effort in implementing this two-pronged strategy.  Pursuant to its departmental mission, HKP will continue to build on its capabilities and enhance its service provision in order to bring benefit to local enterprises (in particular the small and medium-sized enterprises) and the community at large.

    The establishment of the POTF does not change HKP's nature as a government department.  Being a government department, HKP's operation is inevitably subject to certain institutional constraints.  The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and HKP will continue to explore with relevant bureaux/departments appropriate measures to provide additional flexibility to HKP, thus creating a conducive environment for the POTF's sustainable development in the long run.  We will give due consideration to the POTF's unique circumstances in determining its appropriate target rate of return.

    The PAC and the Audit Commission have made a number of recommendations on the operation of HKP (e.g. the handling of underpaid mail, the administration of overtime work and the operation of the post office network, etc.), and HKP has already implemented, and is actively pursuing, improvement measures so as to further enhance its operation.  The progress of the follow-up actions is set out in the GM.  The Government will continue to update the PAC on HKP's implementation progress of various recommendations.

    President, I would like to thank the Chairman and all members of the PAC again for their efforts and guidance in considering the Director of Audit's reports on the results of value for money audit.  The government departments will strictly follow their responses to make improvements, so as to ensure value for money in the use of public funds.

    Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:30


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