D. Taking Care of People in Need

128. No matter how successful we are in fulfilling our mission to meet the forces of change and turn them to our advantage, there will always be people who need the community's support and care. We must work to improve the living conditions of those in need. Our success in this area is a measure of the true quality of our society.

Helping the Elderly

129. Hong Kong's elderly have contributed much to our success over the years. It is only right that we should help them to enjoy a sense of security, a sense of belonging, good health and a feeling of personal worth. I am pleased that more than 5 000 elderly people are expected to take part in new voluntary programmes organised by government departments and community organisations to help others in need. This shows their value to the community and also sets a fine example to younger generations.

130. More than 70% of elderly people live with their families. To encourage people to care for their aged relatives, we already provide tax incentives and public housing privileges. We will provide more support for elderly people living at home, and for their families, by -

  • providing 15 more home help teams in 1999-2000;

  • conducting pilot schemes to improve the cost-effectiveness of home help services; and

  • launching a pilot project to introduce a respite service, which will allow families to place their elderly parents in day care centres temporarily so that the families can attend to other business.

131. For old people who cannot live with their families, we aim to provide support in obtaining suitable housing and care. We are making good progress towards meeting our target of reducing the waiting time for elderly people applying for public rental flats to two years, and the Secretary for Housing is developing a model which will help us to assess the housing demand and preferences of our elderly population so that we may better cater to their needs in the future.

Residential Care Services

132. As regards residential care, I have received a report from the Elderly Commission which recommends a comprehensive strategy to improve residential care services. This involves reducing the waiting time for places in subsidised care homes, and improving the standards of private residential care homes.

133. The Elderly Commission has found that there are currently about

13 000 old people in need who are waiting for residential care places. To help meet demand and reduce the waiting time for places, we plan to provide about 8 000 new subsidised places in the period between 1998 and 2002, including the 7 100 pledged last year. This will increase our total annual committed expenditure on residential care by an estimated $670 million.

134. To help upgrade the standards in private care homes, since early 1997 we have approved financial assistance to 100 homes. We will also pay higher prices under the Bought Place Scheme for places in homes which have more living space and higher staffing levels. To provide more premises of an appropriate standard for private care homes, we will draw up a programme to make available suitable sites in public and private housing developments. We will also monitor the demand and supply of nursing, allied health and personal care staff for residential care homes. To allow elderly people to continue to live in the same home even when their health deteriorates, we will develop a funding mechanism to support residential care homes offering this service and in 1999 we will invite selected homes to provide the service on a trial basis.

Welfare Services

135. Just as many elderly people have special needs, some families, young people and children also require support and practical help. To help relieve pressure on families which has been brought about by the changes in the economic environment, we will strengthen our family services to help those in need. In the coming year, we will employ additional caseworkers to give counselling and practical help. We will also provide more child protection workers next year in order to reinforce public education on the problem of child abuse and to improve our existing child protection services.


136. The disabled can and do make an important contribution to society, inspiring not only others with disabilities, but also able-bodied fellow-citizens to overcome their difficulties. But they cannot do it alone. In 1999-2000 we will provide over 400 extra day and residential places for disabled people. To help us better assess the demand for rehabilitative services and support, the Secretary for Health and Welfare will complete a comprehensive review in 1999 which will enable us to make plans for improving the well-being of people with disabilities.

CSSA Review

137. Last year I asked the Secretary for Health and Welfare to review the scope and administration of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme. One of the factors which gave rise to this review is the trend in CSSA expenditure, which has risen almost four-fold in four years to $9.7 billion in 1997-1998. Our objective in operating the CSSA is to direct valuable resources to provide people in real need with a safety net. Although the current economic conditions have left more people in financial difficulty, the Government must handle its finances prudently and ensure that scarce resources are used effectively and in a targeted manner. We need, therefore, to be very careful in taking this issue forward. The Secretary for Health and Welfare is now finalising the review, and will put forward her recommendations by the end of this year.

E. Health Care and Public Hygiene

Health Care

138. I share the public's concern at the number of unfortunate incidents which have occurred in our hospitals and clinics over the past year. We must do all we can to minimise the risk of similar mis-haps recurring. At the same time, we should not forget that Hong Kong people enjoy a health status that is among the best in the world. Our infant mortality rate is a low four per 1 000 live births. Life expectancy is long at 76 years for men and 82 years for women. Despite the enormous pressure on our public health care system, which saw two million admittances to emergency rooms and seven million attendances at specialist clinics last year, the system has served us well. Of course, this is of no comfort when things go wrong, and we must ensure that our health care workers are trained to the highest levels of competence. To this end, the Hospital Authority is improving its clinical audit and risk management system and will keep these under strict review with the aim of further reducing the risk of clinical mis-haps.

Clinical and Hospital Services

139. We will continue to invest in our public medical sector and improve our existing services for the benefit of community. For example -

  • we will upgrade the pharmaceutical services provided in the clinics of the Department of Health to ensure a high quality of service and to help avoid a recurrence of dispensing errors;

  • to extend our in-patient services, we will, in 1999-2000, bring into use 853 additional beds in public hospitals;

  • we shall put forward a proposal to redevelop Pok Oi Hospital to meet the rising demand for medical services in the northwest New Territories; and

  • we have reserved funds to establish a new Radiotherapy Centre in Princess Margaret Hospital to improve services to cancer patients.

The Health Care Review

140. I said in last year's Policy Address that to help us draw up long-term policies, the Secretary for Health and Welfare would review the financing and delivery of health care in Hong Kong. The review is still in progress. However, preliminary findings show that public expenditure on health care has taken up an increasing share of our resources over the last decade. This share is projected to increase by a further 50% between now and 2010, putting great pressure on our public finances. If we are to continue, in the long-term, to be able to provide quality services we will need to implement reforms. We are now developing reform options and we shall begin public consultation on this important issue in 1999.

New Public Health Initiatives

141. In the past year, a series of public health and hygiene incidents, such as the outbreak of avian influenza, have raised public concern about the deterioration of our food safety and environmental hygiene standards. The Administration has studied the optimum framework for the delivery of food safety and environmental hygiene services as part of the review of District Organisations. I shall talk about this review shortly. Changes to our current management framework will not affect initiatives already in the pipeline, and these will strengthen our monitoring, prevention and control of the spread of communicable diseases. In the coming year, we will step up our health surveillance programmes, increase our analysis of disease data, liaise more frequently with overseas health authorities and intensify staff training. To support these initiatives, we will build a new Public Health Laboratory Centre in Shek Kip Mei, which is scheduled for completion in 2002.

142. Poor hygiene and careless habits are the direct cause of many illnesses, particularly food-related infectious diseases. In May this year we launched the "Healthy Living into the 21st Century" campaign to promote public awareness of the importance of personal and environmental hygiene. We will set up a special team in the Health and Welfare Bureau to organise a campaign of educational, publicity and community activities to emphasise the message that good hygiene contributes to good health. We will also step up government action to monitor food safety, with the aim of ensuring that there is a consistent, unbroken monitoring process which tracks our food from the field to the meal table.

F. The Review of District Organisations

143. As I promised in last year's Policy Address, we have reviewed the functions and structure of the Provisional Municipal Councils and Provisional District Boards. Our objective in conducting this review has been to enhance the standard of provision of services. We have focused on the need to improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness, to streamline the present organisational framework and to increase public accountability and public participation in community affairs.

144. I mentioned a moment ago that in the past year a series of public health incidents, most notably the outbreak of avian influenza, had affected the public's confidence in our food safety and environmental hygiene standards. These incidents were seen by many to be due to a lack of effective central co-ordination, arising from fragmentation of responsibilities for public health matters among different agencies within Government and the Provisional Municipal Councils. Opinions expressed during the consultation exercise on the review of district organisations supported this view, and a clear majority of those who responded to the exercise agreed with the proposal that Government assume direct responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene services.

145. We will respond to the public's concerns by introducing structural changes to the current framework for the delivery of these services. In this regard, we will set up a policy bureau which will be responsible for the environment and for food safety. The new bureau will provide central co-ordination and direction on environmental protection, environmental hygiene, waste management, food safety and nature conservation policy. It will be underpinned by a new Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene, as well as the existing Environmental Protection Department and the Agriculture and Fisheries Department. The responsibilities for food safety and environmental hygiene currently under the purview of the Urban and Regional Services Departments, the Department of Health and the Agriculture and Fisheries Department will be assumed by the new Department. An advisory committee will be established to give advice on and monitor our work in this area, as well as to allow greater professional participation in formulating policies. We have ruled out the option of placing the functions of the new Department under the Provisional Municipal Councils' purview because they go far beyond the scope of the services which the Councils currently provide.

146. We are finalising the planning for the new structure, with a view to it being in place before the end of 1999.

147. Besides providing food and environmental hygiene services, the Provisional Municipal Councils also manage arts and culture and sports and recreation programmes and facilities. The review has addressed the issue of whether these latter functions should remain under the control of the Councils.

148. The consultation exercise provided feedback from the arts and sports communities which revealed concerns about unclear policy, a lack of cost-effectiveness and duplication of functions with other service providers. Some have questioned whether the Provisional Municipal Councils are best placed to continue to provide these services, and they have pointed to overseas experience to illustrate the argument for having dedicated agencies to deal with these sectors. With this in mind, we have examined the possible role that might be played by a Municipal Council which would no longer exercise functions in respect of food safety and environmental hygiene, and have come to the conclusion that it would be better to have dedicated agencies play the leading role in the development of the arts and sport in Hong Kong. We will therefore develop a new administrative framework for the delivery of these services with the Arts Development Council, the Sports Development Board and other concerned parties before finalising the details of the new structure, so that we can put this in place before the end of 1999.

Municipal Councils

149. Prior to the 1980s, there was no elected legislature in Hong Kong and the then Urban Council was the only political institution with directly elected representatives. Members of the Urban Council not only dealt with municipal services, but also often acted as informal "ombudsmen". Both the Urban and Regional Councils have played an important role in encouraging the community's participation in the running of Hong Kong. However, with the development of the roles of the Legislative Council and the District Boards, it is questionable whether there are still valid reasons for maintaining a three-tier system of Government in a compact city like Hong Kong.

150. I believe that the proposed new framework for providing services in the areas of food safety and environmental hygiene will be more efficient and cost-effective than the present arrangements. In designing the new framework for managing sport and the arts our key consideration will be to improve service delivery. Against this background, we do not see the need to retain the Provisional Municipal Councils after the terms of office of their members expire at the end of 1999. We fully acknowledge the work done by the two Councils in the past, and I appreciate that there are differing views within this Council on the merits of keeping the Municipal Councils. However, now that I have explained the proposed new arrangements and the reasons behind these proposals, I hope that in the months ahead the Government will be able to achieve a consensus with the Honourable Members of this Council that these arrangements are in the best interests of providing an improved service to our community.

District Boards

151. Since their establishment in 1982, the District Boards (DBs) have effectively given advice and feedback to the Administration on local and territory-wide matters and encouraged participation in community affairs. The review found that the public was generally in favour of retaining the Boards and many felt that their role in advising government and monitoring services at the district level should be expanded. In view of Hong Kong's small size, delegating specific executive functions to the 18 DBs would run the risk of fragmenting responsibilities and diminishing efficiency. Nevertheless, we believe that the DBs will still play a vital role in empowering the community and providing more accountable and responsive district services. With this in mind, we will -

  • provide additional funding to the DBs for improving the local environment, commissioning district cultural and recreational activities and promoting more community building programmes;

  • enhance the DBs' role in advising on and monitoring municipal service delivery; and

  • ensure that the Government is more responsive to DBs' advice, by consulting them before we finalise district programmes.

152. The structure of the DBs will remain essentially the same as now.

I have asked the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs to prepare legislative proposals for the election of the Boards (which, in English, will be re-named "District Councils") in time for the election to be held before the end of 1999.

G. Strengthening the Institutions of Society

153. The rule of law and the maintenance of order are indispensable foundations of Hong Kong's success. To guarantee our future stability we must ensure that the institutions which protect the rights and the safety and security of our citizens continue to gain in strength.

An Excellent Police Force

154. We are one of the world's most crime-free cities. This is largely attributable to our professional Police Force. Our excellent co-operation with Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies has also helped in containing crime. We will continue to upgrade the services provided by the Police to the community, and in the coming year we will -

  • enhance the Police's use of information technology;

  • deploy more front-line Police officers in newly developed areas such as Tseung Kwan O and Ma On Shan; and

  • streamline crime reporting procedures and upgrade the environment of Police stations so as to improve our level of service to the public.

The Importance of the ICAC

155. That Hong Kong has a reputation as one of the most fair and open cities in the world in which to do business, is in large part due to the excellent work of the ICAC, which continues to bring to justice, regardless of background, those who use bribery and corruption to gain an unfair advantage. To combat the ever more sophisticated techniques, often involving information technology, which are used by the corrupt, the ICAC will in 1999 set up two new sections to enhance its ability -

  • to seize, preserve and analyse electronic data and to present such data as evidence in the courts; and

  • to detect and investigate the increasingly complex financial aspects of corruption cases.

Our Legal System

156. As I emphasised earlier, we are proud of our legal framework, which acts as a bulwark of equality and justice. We are keen to promote further public recognition and understanding of the system both here and overseas, and to enhance the quality of the system. Over the next year, we will -

  • press home the message that our legal system is still autonomous and functioning smoothly;

  • improve our ability to conduct criminal cases which go to the Court of Final Appeal, by strengthening the Prosecutions Division of the Department of Justice; and

  • extend our network of bilateral agreements with other administrations on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.

The Rights of Individuals

157. For a person to be able to play his or her full part in society, they must be able to enjoy their basic rights as an individual. We remain firmly committed to meeting our international obligations in this regard. We have recently submitted a report to the United Nations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We aim to submit further reports later this year under treaties governing civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights.

158. The Equal Opportunities Commission, which plays a key role in enforcing anti-discrimination laws will continue to have our full support. This year, the Commission will step up campaigns to promote equal opportunities for students in schools. Separately, the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data will continue his work in promoting compliance with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, and will publish a code of practice for human resource managers on how to handle the personal data collected and held by them as employers.

Constitutional Development

159. The Legislative Council election held on 24 May this year in accordance with the principles laid down in the Basic Law was a resounding success. The record turnout of voters reflects the community's increasing civic awareness and strong support for the principle of "One Country, Two Systems", as well as its confidence that we can realise the concept of "Hong Kong people running Hong Kong" with "a high degree of autonomy". With the successful completion of the first Legislative Council elections, our major task is now to prepare for the elections to this Council in the year 2000. For the longer term, we are fully committed to developing further our democratic institutions in accordance with the Basic Law. We need to develop a model suitable for Hong Kong, one which promotes stability and prosperity and is in line with the ultimate aim of having a Legislative Council and a Chief Executive elected by universal suffrage.

Co-operation between the Executive and the Legislature

160. Rule by an executive-led Government is a proven formula in Hong Kong, and is a principle enshrined in the Basic Law. The initiative for policy-making lies with the Government, and this puts the onus on us to plan for the long term, yet also to be responsive and flexible in adjusting to prevailing conditions. I believe that this mode of Government will continue to serve Hong Kong well, particularly under the present economic climate which calls for quick, decisive and determined efforts on our part.

161. In formulating policies, the Government must listen carefully to the views of the community. The Government will also seek the views of the Legislature, and respect its powers as enshrined in the Basic Law. Of course, the relationship between the Government and the Legislature goes beyond these principles. It is built on daily contact between officials of the Government and Legislative Council members in panels, at sittings, or even through informal contacts. Through constructive exchanges and continuous dialogue, both sides work in the interest of the public good. The Government will continue to nurture a relationship with the Legislature which is based on mutual trust and mutual respect, with the long-term benefit of the people of Hong Kong as the goal.

H. More Efficient and Cost-effective Government

162. The delivery of the pledges made in this Address is largely in the hands of our Government. For us to be able to serve the people of Hong Kong properly, we must ensure that we operate efficiently and cost-effectively, maintaining high standards and yet controlling growth in the bureaucracy. We must also ensure that we have the best possible structure for the effective delivery of services.

An Honest and Effective Civil Service

163. Events of the past year have tested civil servants' responsiveness and ability to manage crises. We must and we will strive to do better. The community expects nothing less than full dedication and professionalism from its public servants.

164. Since becoming the Chief Executive of the HKSAR Government, I have come to appreciate more and more the skill, loyalty and dedication of our civil servants. In the past year, many civil servants have gone beyond the call of duty to devote their time and efforts unreservedly to tackling urgent and unforeseen matters. The Civil Service as a whole has provided much needed stability after the Handover. Their honesty and integrity help to ensure that the Hong Kong way of life is maintained.

High Civil Service Productivity

165. The public sector has a duty to ensure that community gets maximum value from the available resources, and must direct these resources to achieving the best possible results. Last year, I announced the implementation of a Target-based Management Process to ensure that we in the public service manage our business in a result-oriented way. This year we will publish 37 Policy Objective booklets in which Bureau Secretaries and other agency Heads will specify the results we aim to deliver for the community in the bulk of the Government's programme areas. This process has laid a solid foundation for us to embark on a drive for higher productivity in the years to come.

166. Driven by the Chief Secretary for Administration, the public sector will undertake an Enhanced Productivity Programme. We will set targets and require departments and agencies regularly to review their baseline expenditure to ensure that it is directed to Government's main priorities. In the next few months we will require departments and agencies to put

forward proposals for new or improved services without giving them additional financial resources. Managers will be required to deliver productivity gains amounting to 5% of their operating expenditure between now and the year 2002. As appropriate, we will also require managers to make more use of appointments on contract, rather than permanent appointments.

167. Civil service pay levels should in principle be broadly comparable to those in the private sector. The Secretary for the Civil Service will shortly commission the Standing Commission on Civil Service Salaries and Conditions of Service to carry out a detailed Benchmark Review to determine whether or not civil service pay at the crucial entry point is still in step with the equivalent pay levels being offered in the private sector. Once the results are known, the Standing Commission will also advise on what steps should be taken to adjust civil service entry pay to ensure broad comparability with that in the private sector.

168. In making these changes, we will not accept any deterioration in our level of service to the community. I am confident that the public service will respond positively to this challenge, and will come to pride itself on being lean and fit, while attaining high standards of accountability and productivity.

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