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LCQ10: Provision of interpretation services for ethnic minorities

     Following is a question by the Hon Lam Cheuk-ting and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     Recently, a number of members from the ethnic minorities (EMs) have sought my assistance.  They say that quite a number of government departments (including the Hong Kong Police Force, Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department, Social Welfare Department and Labour Department) and public organisations (including public hospitals and clinics) have failed to provide adequate interpretation services for EMs.  As a result, non-Chinese/English speaking EMs have encountered difficulties in areas such as employment, education and access to public services.  On the other hand, in 2010, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau issued the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality (the Guidelines) to provide guidance to the relevant policy bureaux, government departments and other public authorities so as to promote racial equality and ensure EMs' equal access to public services in key areas concerned.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the number of government departments which employed in the past three years interpreters to assist their staff in communicating with EMs, and set out by department the languages of EMs involved;
(2) whether the authorities will step up their support for public organisations in respect of the provision of interpretation services for EMs; if they will, of the details; if not, how the authorities ensure that public organisations provide adequate interpretation services for EMs who use their services; and
(3) since the review of the Guidelines in 2014, whether the authorities have reviewed afresh the effectiveness of the Guidelines; if they have, of the outcome of the review in respect of the provision of interpretation services for EMs, and the details of the relevant improvement measures; if not, the reasons for that?
     After consulting the relevant responsible departments, the consolidated reply to the question raised is as follows:
(1) and (2) At present, various government bureaux and departments (B/Ds) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region each provide suitable support services to meet the practical needs of the ethnic minorities (EMs), such as provision of interpretation services, publication of service pamphlets in EM languages and recruitment of EM services ambassadors, etc., so as to ensure their equal access to public services.
     If Government departments need to procure outside interpretation services, they may do so in accordance with the Stores and Procurement Regulations based on their specific requirements.  Among them, the Home Affairs Department (HAD) has commissioned the Hong Kong Christian Service to run the Centre for Harmony and Enhancement of Ethnic Minority Residents (CHEER).  The services provided by CHEER also cover general interpretation and translation services, including telephone interpretation and enquiry services, on-site interpretation and written translation services.  At present, there are 15 EMs working in CHEER responsible for providing a variety of key services, including interpretation and translation services.  Telephone interpretation and enquiry services may be provided instantaneously, but on-site interpretation service is only available by appointment.  The services provided by CHEER have been operating smoothly and there is currently no plan to increase its manpower. 
     Interpretation and translation services in specialised areas do not fall within the service scope of CHEER.  As different B/Ds and public organisations may have different requirements on the interpretation and translation services to be provided, they may engage appropriate service providers directly to assist the EM service users depending on the practical situations. 
(3) Relevant B/Ds and public authorities are responsible for, within their respective policy and programme areas, the implementation of the Administrative Guidelines on Promotion of Racial Equality (the Guidelines) issued by the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau (CMAB) in 2010.  They are also required to draw up checklists of measures that would assist in promoting racial equality and equal access to key public services to enhance the transparency of their work.  The relevant departments will draw up and issue updates on the contents of the checklists according to their respective programme areas and where necessary.  The checklists contain contact information of relevant departments and have been uploaded onto the CMAB website.

The scope of application of the Guidelines covered 14 departments in 2010 and has now been extended to cover 23 (note).  The Government will keep the scope, coverage and implementation of the Guidelines under review as appropriate, and share among departments effective measures to facilitate experience sharing and enhance the efficacy of the Guidelines.

Note: The 23 bureaux and departments and public authorities are the Education Bureau, Social Welfare Department, Labour Department, Home Affairs Department, Employees Retraining Board, Vocational Training Council, Food and Health Bureau, Department of Health, Hospital Authority, Construction Industry Council, Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, Innovation and Technology Commission, Office of the Communications Authority, Housing Department, Hong Kong Observatory, Post Office, Legal Aid Department, Hong Kong Police Force, Correctional Services Department, Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department, Fire Services Department and Registration and Electoral Office.

Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:20