LC: CS presents Government Minute in response to Report of Public Accounts Committee No. 67 and No. 67A
Laid on the table today is the Government Minute (GM) responding to Reports No. 67 and 67A of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
When presenting Reports No. 67 and 67A on February 15 and April 12 to the Legislative Council (LegCo), the Chairman of PAC gave comments on two chapters in the Director of Audit’s Report:
(a) Funding of universities by University Grants Committee; and
(b) Maintenance and safety-related improvements of public rental housing flats.
I am grateful for the time and effort that the PAC devoted to investigating these subjects. We accept PAC’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 the Government has taken in the two policy areas investigated by PAC as well as the progress made.
Funding of universities by University Grants Committee
Management of conflicts of interest
Regarding the management of conflicts of interest, the University Grants Committee (UGC) Secretariat has reviewed the system for the management of Register of Interests forms submitted by UGC members and implemented improvement measures. UGC currently adopts a two-tier reporting system for managing conflicts of interest in order to enhance transparency and accountability: UGC members are requested to declare interests whenever they see a reason to do so; and when UGC members are aware of any potential conflict with the discussion items on the meeting agendas, they are required to make a declaration, and if necessary, be excused from the relevant discussions. The UGC Secretariat has set up a central database on Register of Interests forms submitted by members; and a bring-up mechanism has also been put in place to closely monitor the progress of submission from members.
Internationalisation of universities
Regarding internationalisation of universities, UGC has all along been encouraging and will continue to encourage universities to internationalise in ways that fit their own institutional context, including continuing their efforts to attract more diversified sources of non-local students. In response to PAC’s recommendation, the Education Bureau is following up with the Immigration Department to compile more detailed statistics of non-local students who have remained to work or stay in Hong Kong after graduation. The Government will continue to monitor the performance of UGC-funded universities on internationalisation.
Administration of capital grants
As regards the administration of capital grants, the UGC Secretariat will continue its follow-up work on the assessment of academic space, shortfall in student hostel places and finalisation of project final accounts. The follow-up work mainly includes: (a) planning to engage consultants to conduct a review on the space requirement formulae; (b) continuing to work closely with EDB and the UGC-funded universities with a view to increasing the number of hostel places; and (c) working hard with the Architectural Services Department and the universities with a view to finalising the project final accounts as soon as practicable.
(a) Hotel accommodation
The UGC Secretariat has reviewed the current hotel accommodation arrangement for non-local members. Having regard to the status of non-local members who are renowned academics from around the world, it is considered appropriate to maintain the provision of upmarket hotel accommodation for them when attending meetings in Hong Kong. In order to enhance the procurement arrangement, the UGC Secretariat has extended the list of hotels invited for submission of quotations such that the quotation exercise covers all appropriate hotels which are located in the vicinity of the meeting venues. The UGC Secretariat will regularly review the list of hotels included in the exercise to ensure that it reflects the latest situation in the vicinity.
(b) Air passage
The UGC Secretariat has consulted the Government Logistics Department (GLD) and the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau on the procedures for the procurement of air tickets. It is noted from GLD that as a general rule, the procurement of air tickets for the same activity should be consolidated as far as practicable. The UGC Secretariat has taken the advice of GLD and has put in place suitable arrangements in the procurement of air tickets.
PAC and the Audit Commission have made a number of recommendations on the specific operation of UGC (e.g. Research Assessment Exercise, enrolment rules, rules of procedure for meetings, work on quality audits, way forward for formulating the tuition fee policy, etc.). UGC and the Secretariat have implemented improvement measures and have been actively taking follow-up action with a view to further enhancing the internal operation. The progress of the follow-up action is set out in the GM.
Maintenance and safety-related improvements of public rental housing flats
With regard to the “Maintenance and safety-related improvements of public rental housing flats”, I agree fully with PAC that a proper maintenance and improvement programme is essential for maintaining a healthy and safe environment for the PRH tenants as well as for other stakeholders, such as workers, commercial tenants and Housing Department’s (HD) staff. Most of the recommendations have been implemented or will be implemented. We are actively taking follow-up action to further improve its operation and related works.
The PAC report has recommended that HD should take measures to ensure that minutes/meeting notes on all important matters are maintained. In this regard, the Secretary for Transport and Housing (STH) has urged the Director of Housing (DoH) and HD staff to continue to ensure compliance with the department’s Records Management Policy and maintain proper records on important matters. For this purpose, in addition to periodic circulation of the relevant circulars, guidelines and tips on records management, HD has also organised seminars and invited representatives from the Government Records Service to talk about good practices for the management of Government records.
Since the “excess-lead-in-water” incident, HD has learnt from the incident and introduced comprehensive institutional improvements to enhance its quality assurance mechanism and safeguard against risks. HD will make improvements in accordance with the views and recommendations in the Audit and PAC reports with a view to exercising good governance in handling crises effectively.
STH has personally examined the observations of PAC regarding its observations on the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing (Housing)/Director of Housing (PS(H)/DoH) and other staff over the lack of notes of meeting for the first seven inter-departmental meetings during the period from July 20 to August 7, 2015 to discuss and validate water sampling test results. STH has also reviewed some relevant records. Although no official notes of meeting were maintained for those seven meetings, some raw data and other relevant records including emails all along exist in the four departments. These were provided to and reviewed by PAC which did not find any evidence of cover-up.
During the PAC hearings, PS(H)/DoH acknowledged that the lack of notes of meeting for the first seven meetings was an area that required improvement. He also accepted PAC’s criticism and recommendations in this regard. Taking all things in totality, the lack of sensitivity of PS(H)/DoH at the time about the need to prepare official notes of meetings did not amount, in the circumstances, to a matter of discipline or gross irregularity. STH has interviewed PS(H)/DoH and pointed to his inadequacy and the need to continue to enhance the department’s crisis management capabilities
PAC and the Audit Commission have made a number of recommendations on the management of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in PRH estates. HD has already implemented most of the recommendations, including the enhancement measures for updating and maintaining the ACM records and dissemination of ACM information. HD is well aware of the location of ACMs and has re-examined all ACM records. HD will also label all ACMs in PRH estates with new label design following Environmental Protection Department (EPD)’s recommendations. At present, HD has labelled the ACM staircase and lobby grilles with the new design. For the other ACMs, such as the in-flat balcony ACM grilles and chimneys, HD is arranging to install the warning label in due course. HD agrees that it is essential that tenants and other stakeholders must be aware and informed of the presence of ACMs in their estates and take part in monitoring the ACMs. In this connection, HD will step up publicity of ACM information. HD, in consultation with an established tripartite forum involving EPD, Labour Department and HD, is actively following up to enhance the management and monitoring of ACMs, and will continue to review and optimise the ACM monitoring mechanism in existing PRH estates.
PAC and the Audit Commission have also made a number of recommendations on other issues, such as in-flat maintenance of PRH flats, replacement of laundry pole-holders and enhancing fire safety of old PRH estates. The progress of the follow-up action is set out in the GM. The Government will continue to update PAC on HD’s implementation progress of various recommendations.
President, I would like to thank the Chairman and all members of PAC again for their efforts and guidance in considering the Director of Audit’s report on the results of value for money audit. The relevant 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 24, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:04
Issued at HKT 14:04