Controversial plans to turn a centre for the disabled into a training centre for civil servants will go ahead, despite a public outcry and an admission on the part of Chief Executive Carrie Lam that the government had failed to communicate well enough with stakeholders.

An 11,000 square-metre site in Kwun Tong that hosts the Shine Skills Centre, where people with disabilities are taught practical skills, will be handed over to the government in 2021 to be used as a civil service college.

Protesters outside Shine Skills Centre.

On Sunday, Shine Skills Centre students and their parents protested outside the centre alongside six pro-democracy lawmakers, urging the government to halt their plans. Organisers reported attendance to have been at 800.

“The need for training for civil servants was placed over the training for disabled people – this is intolerable,” said Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who added that the relocation plan essentially meant terminating the school.

Parents of students and staff members have said they were not consulted beforehand, and that the 330 students would have to move to centres in faraway locations such as Tuen Mun and Pok Fu Lam.

“If this school is torn down, it means an end to training services for disabled people. It is also an end to the right to study for all students,” said a student at the protest who wished to remain anonymous.

‘We can improve’

When queried on the move, Carrie Lam admitted that poor communication on the part of the government was to blame.

“We can improve with communication, especially with the Vocational Training Council, parents, staff and students,” she said in Papua New Guinea, where she had been attending APEC meetings. “I have instructed the Secretary for Labour and Welfare to improve his work in this regard.”

The government had said it will provide a larger integrated vocational training centre in urban areas in September 2021, but lawmakers have complained that the new centre would only provide lower level skills compared to those taught at the Kwun Tong centre, and that this would be a “step backwards” for students.

Protesters hold their hands outside Shine Skills Centre.

Lam said that, as the former director of social welfare, she still felt invested in supporting those with disabilities.

“On relocating the Shine Skills Centre facilities, we will provide better support for the disabled students in need,” she said. “It will not be worse than the service currently being provided.”

She added that the new facilities would be better. “If you have been to the Kwun Tong Shine Skills Centre, it is a decades-old facility. It is quite poor compared to new facilities.”

Lam said that the transition would be smooth and that users would be able to move into the new location right after they left the old facility.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.