The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has said it will have to move its office due to rent hikes and inadequate government funding. It may have a structural deficit in the next financial year.
The EOC, which is primarily funded by the government, received between HK$105 and HK$107 million in each of the past few financial years. It said the government used a HK$22 per square foot estimate in calculating its funding for rent.
The current lease for the EOC’s offices at Tai Koo Shing will expire in December this year, and the rental cost has increased to HK$48 per square feet. The watchdog paid HK$10.68 million for rent in the year 2016/17.
“Without additional funding, the Commission will not be able to meet the rental of its office upon the renewal of the lease,” it said in a document to lawmakers. “It is projected that the EOC will have a structural deficit, with the Commission’s reserve totally depleted by 2018/19.”
Because of the financial difficulties, the EOC has decided to relocate to a property with lower rent in Wong Chuk Hang in the Southern District.
“The EOC reckons that moving its office further away from the core business district will inevitably cause inconvenience to some members of the public. Yet the EOC has no other option given the rise in rental and the lack of additional funding.”
The government said it provided a one-off amount of HK$9.5 million to the EOC as moving costs, while the remaining amount will be covered by the EOC’s reserve.
The Commission said it will be able to turn around the deficit and restore itself to a healthy financial position in the long run, but it hoped the government could consider its request for a permanent office.
Lawmaker Nathan Law said at a LegCo session that the EOC’s situation was sad, as “the government has given the same amount of subsidies without knowing the skyrocketing rent of the market.”
“It would be a shocking joke, a big international scandal, if the EOC used up all its reserves,” he said.
Ray Chan, an openly gay lawmaker, said the government “would not hang the EOC dry.”
“But it will not give you a lot of room for development,” he said. “Maybe later on you will have to move to Sha Tau Kok [near the border] to get lower rent.”
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Rosanna Law said at the session that, if the EOC proposes a plan for a permanent office, the government would examine it in detail.
The EOC made 73 recommendations to the government to reform the existing four anti-discrimination ordinances last year. The government chose to start by reviewing nine of the suggestions.
Hong Kong has yet to have an anti-sexual orientation discrimination law, as some groups have strongly opposed it. Last year, the government said it would wait until after the chief executive election to consider enacting the law.
A study published in January 2016 by the EOC showed that “public opinion had visibly shifted in favour of the passing of legislation to protect LGBTI persons from discrimination.”
Over 55 per cent of the general public and over 90 per cent of the young population between 18 and 24 agreed to the introduction of the legislation.
“The EOC recommended the government to embark on public consultation on the introduction of legislation. The consultation focus should be on the scope and content of the legislation, rather than whether there should be legislation,” it said.
Last month, the EOC reiterated the urgency and importance of the legislation by issuing a statement supported by a wide range of individuals and organisations.
The Secretary for Justice said that the consultation document on reviewing issues concerning transsexual persons, including the anti-discrimination legislation and incidental administrative measures, will be completed before July 1 this year. The EOC said it looks forward to the report and to collaborating with the government on promoting inclusion for the LGBTI communities.