Government releases Report of the Independent Audit Panel for Recommendations in the Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Construction Works at and near the Hung Hom Station Extension under the Shatin to Central Link Project

     The independent audit panel (the Panel) appointed pursuant to recommendations in the Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Construction Works at and near the Hung Hom Station Extension under the Shatin to Central Link Project has completed an independent follow-up audit on the implementation progress of the various recommended measures in the Commission's Interim Report. An audit report was submitted to the Chief Executive on May 26 and uploaded to the Transport and Housing Bureau website (www.thb.gov.hk/eng/psp/publications/transport/studies/index.htm) today (June 3).
      
     The Commission made 58 recommendations in its Interim Report to promote public safety and assurance on quality of works. Regarding the full implementation of these recommendations, the Panel is of the view that 14 have been reached and 42 are with satisfactory progress, whereas the remaining two have also made progress. 
      
     The Secretary for Transport and Housing, Mr Frank Chan Fan, expressed his deep appreciation for the work of the Chairman of the Panel, Mr Wong Kwai-huen, and the Members of the Panel, Professor Lo Hong-kam and Mr Chan Chi-chiu. Relevant bureaux and departments will continue to follow up on the recommendations.




LCQ14: Principal payment holiday schemes introduced by financial institutions

     Following is a question by the Hon Frankie Yick and a written reply by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Mr Christopher Hui, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):
 
Question:
 
     It is learnt that quite a number of banks and finance companies (financial institutions) have introduced principal payment holiday schemes to assist small and medium enterprises affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 epidemic in tackling cash flow problems. However, some owners of commercial vehicles have indicated that such schemes often come with additional conditions (e.g. applicants being required to take out an insurance policy). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
 
(1) whether it knows which financial institutions have introduced principal payment holiday schemes for owners of commercial vehicles; the respective numbers of relevant applications received, approved and rejected by such institutions since February this year, with a breakdown by class of vehicles; if there were rejected applications, of the reasons for that;
 
(2) whether it knows the additional conditions of the various principal payment holiday schemes which are available for application by owners of commercial vehicles; whether the Government will request the relevant financial institutions to cancel the additional conditions, so as to avoid increasing the financial burden of the vehicle owners concerned; and
 
(3) of the measures in place to encourage financial institutions which have not yet introduced principal payment holiday schemes to roll out such schemes?
 
Reply:
 
President,
 
     Our reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
 
(1) To help corporates in Hong Kong cope with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) launched a Pre-approved Principal Payment Holiday Scheme (the Scheme) through the Banking Sector SME Lending Coordination Mechanism (the Coordination Mechanism) in April this year, allowing eligible corporate customers to defer their loan principal payments. The Scheme is applicable to all industries including the transport sector, and covers all corporate customers that have an annual sales turnover below HK$800 million and that do not have loans severely overdue. Eligible corporate customers can enjoy the deferment without having to file any application; all they have to do is to confirm relevant details with their banks upon the latter's invitation. At the HKMA's request, all 103 banks in Hong Kong that provide loans to eligible customers have joined the Scheme.
 
     Of the over 130 000 eligible corporate customers covered by the Scheme, more than 100 000 have received invitations from their banks. We understand that more than 8 000 customers have confirmed their participation in the Scheme, some of which are owners and operators of commercial vehicles (such as taxis, public light buses, trucks, non-franchised buses, coaches, and construction-related vehicles). Save for a small number that do not meet the eligibility requirements (such as having larger scales of operation or loans that are severely overdue) in the first place, customers in need are generally able to join the Scheme with relative ease.
 
     For customers excluded from the Scheme, the HKMA has requested banks to adopt an accommodative stance and consider, on a case-by-case basis, if financial assistance can be offered to them within the remit of the banks' risk management principles. The HKMA has also reminded banks to follow the guidelines set out in the "Hong Kong Approach to Corporate Difficulties", by being sympathetic to customers encountering financial difficulties, and enhancing communication with these customers to see if they need loan restructuring with a view to tiding them over the current difficulties.
 
(2) The Scheme does not impose extra conditions on corporate borrowers other than the aforesaid eligibility criteria in respect of sales turnover and repayment performance. If a bank is found to have imposed additional conditions on customers, the HKMA will follow up as appropriate.
 
(3) The HKMA has been maintaining close liaison with the banking industry since the outbreak of COVID-19. It has also rolled out several rounds of relief measures through the Coordination Mechanism with a view to helping different industries as far as possible. These measures include the issue of a circular in February to remind banks to favourably consider requests from borrowers for extension of repayment schedules, and the launch of the aforementioned Scheme in April requiring the participation of all banks. As of May 15, more than 24 000 cases of principal payment holidays and other extensions of repayment schedules have been granted by banks, involving more than HK$257 billion.
 
     In addition, the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation Limited launched in April the Special 100% Loan Guarantee as announced in the 2020-21 Budget. Banks have received warm response from customers since the commencement of the scheme from April 20. As of May 22, 3 300 applications totalling around HK$6.8 billion have already been approved.
 
     Notwithstanding gradual improvements in the local COVID-19 situation in the recent months, we will continue to maintain close liaison with the banking industry and consider appropriate measures as necessary, with a view to helping persons affected by the pandemic weather the adversity.




LCQ15: Distance Business Programme

     Following is a question by the Hon Charles Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Mr Alfred Sit, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):
 
Question:
      
     To support enterprises to continue their businesses and provide services during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 epidemic, the Government has allocated a funding of $500 million from the Anti-epidemic Fund for launching a Distance Business Programme (the Programme), under which funding support will be granted through a fast-track approval process for enterprises to adopt information technology (IT) solutions for developing distance business. The Programme covers 12 IT solution categories relating to distance business (e.g. online business, online order taking and delivery, and smart self-service systems) and opens for applications between May 18 and October 31 this year. In addition, the Government has published an IT Service Providers Reference List (the List) for reference by applicant enterprises. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
      
(1) of the respective to-date numbers of applications received, approved and rejected; a breakdown of the number of enterprises whose applications were approved by (i) the number of employees and (ii) the number of years of operation, the respective numbers of applications received and approved under each IT solution category, as well as a breakdown of the rejected cases (if any) by reason for the rejection; whether it has assessed if the funding is sufficient to provide support for all eligible applicants; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the negative, whether it will provide additional funding in a timely manner;
 
(2) of the respective to-date numbers of applications for inclusion in the List received, approved and rejected; a breakdown of the number of service providers whose applications were approved by (i) the number of employees and (ii) the number of years of operation, as well as a breakdown of the rejected cases (if any) by reason for the rejection;
 
(3) of the details of the publicity efforts made for the Programme, including the means (e.g. holding briefing sessions or placing advertisements on mainstream or online media), number of times, number of participants and expenditure; and
 
(4) whether it has received complaints that websites with a domain name comprising ''D-Biz'' (the English abbreviation of the Programme) were found to have disguised as the official website or have misled the public; if so, of the details and the follow-up actions?

Reply:
 
President,
      
     Remote working or service has become a new trend against the backdrop of the epidemic. The Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) has launched the Distance Business Programme (the Programme) under the Anti-epidemic Fund to provide funding support to enterprises to continue their business and services during the epidemic through adoption of information technology (IT) solutions. The Hong Kong Productivity Council is the Secretariat of the Programme (the Secretariat).
 
     The reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
 
(1) and (2) The Programme has invited applications from IT service providers to enrol on the IT Service Providers Reference List (Reference List) from May 4. As at 6pm on June 1, the Secretariat has received 3 525 applications. A total of 2 023 IT service providers have been enroled on the Reference List. Remaining applications are being processed, and no service provider has been rejected from enroling on the Reference List so far. The Secretariat does not maintain statistics of the years of operation of the service providers on the Reference List, while the number of service providers by a breakdown of their number of employees is tabulated below:
 

Number of employees Number of IT service providers on the Reference List
1-9 1 391
10-19 312
20-29 103
30-39 60
40-49 28
50-99 62
100 or above 67
Total 2 023

 
     The Programme has invited funding applications from enterprises from May 18. As at 6pm on June 1, the Secretariat has received 8 665 applications. The Secretariat is processing the applications received, and has yet to approve or reject any funding applications.
 
(3) ITC issued a press release on May 1, 2020 to announce the details for IT service providers to apply for enroling on the Reference List, and subsequently issued another press release on May 16 to announce the details for funding applications by enterprises. It also issued a press release on May 30 to remind service providers who wish to enrol on the Reference List to submit applications before the deadline as soon as possible. The Programme has a dedicated webpage with information including the Reference List, Guidance Notes and application forms. In addition, the Secretariat has organised or participated in over 16 webinars with over 15 000 participants from April 24 to June 1, and has published/broadcasted advertisements on mainstream or online media for over 170 times during the period to promote the Programme. As at June 1, the Secretariat has spent $270,000 on promoting the Programme.
 
(4) ITC and the Secretariat have received enquiries and complaints on suspected bogus websites which resemble the official website of the Programme. The Secretariat has issued clarifications on the official website of the Programme and reminded the public to stay vigilant. It has also issued 17 written warnings to those suspected bogus website entities, and furnished information of those websites to the Police for follow-up.




Applications for new niches at Tsang Tsui and Wo Hop Shek columbaria to close on June 10

     Applications for some 40 000 new extendable niches at Tsang Tsui Columbarium in Tuen Mun and Wo Hop Shek Columbarium Phase VI in Fanling will close on June 10. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) today (June 3) reminded those who wish to apply for the niches to submit their applications as soon as possible.
 
      An FEHD spokesman said that applications for the niches in this exercise started on May 11 and will close on June 10. Late applications will not be accepted.
 
     The FEHD will allocate a total of 44 950 extendable public niches at Tsang Tsui Columbarium and Wo Hop Shek Columbarium Phase VI, including 22 680 standard niches (7 080 smoke-free niches and 15 600 non-smoke-free niches) and 220 non-smoke-free large niches at Tsang Tsui Columbarium, and 21 720 standard niches (11 490 smoke-free niches and 10 230 non-smoke-free niches) and 330 large niches (160 smoke-free niches and 170 non-smoke-free niches) at Wo Hop Shek Columbarium Phase VI.
 
     Application forms can be collected at the department's Hong Kong or Kowloon Cemeteries and Crematoria Office, District Environmental Hygiene Offices, Home Affairs Enquiry Centres of the Home Affairs Department, Post Offices on Cheung Chau, Lamma Island, Peng Chau or at Mui Wo and Tai O, downloaded from the FEHD website, or obtained through the enquiry hotline 2841 9111 or by email (apply_newniche@fehd.gov.hk).
 
     The completed application forms together with the copies of required documents should be submitted on or before June 10 by fax (2333 1716), email (apply_newniche@fehd.gov.hk), or in person to the FEHD Hong Kong or Kowloon Cemeteries and Crematoria Office or by post to the above offices. The spokesman advises applicants to submit application forms online so as to avoid postal delays or non-delivery.     
      
     Information on the Cemeteries and Crematoria Offices and Public Niche Allocation Office of FEHD is as follows:
 
Hong Kong Cemeteries and Crematoria Office
Address: 1J Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley, Hong Kong
Tel: 2570 4318
Fax: 2591 1879
 
Kowloon Cemeteries and Crematoria Office
Address: Upper Ground Floor, 6 Cheong Hang Road, Hung Hom, Kowloon
Tel: 2365 5321
Fax: 2176 4963
 
Public Niche Allocation Office
Address: Upper Ground Floor, Block B, 6 Cheong Hang Road, Hung Hom, Kowloon
Tel:2330 5635
Fax:2333 1716




Red flag hoisted at Hung Shing Yeh Beach

Attention TV/radio announcers:

Please broadcast the following as soon as possible:

Here is an item of interest to swimmers.

     The Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced today (June 3) that due to big waves, red flag has been hoisted at Hung Shing Yeh Beach in Islands District. Beach-goers are advised not to swim at the beach.