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More funds needed for reconstruction in Sichuan quake-stricken areas (with photos/videos)  
   

Building on the first-stage work to support reconstruction in Sichuan earthquake-stricken areas, the Government plans to propose to the Finance Committee (FC) of the Legislative Council (LegCo) to increase the earlier approved commitment of $2 billion by $4 billion, making a total of $6 billion. This will be injected into the Trust Fund in Support of Reconstruction in the Sichuan Earthquake Stricken Areas to support the HKSAR's second-stage reconstruction support work in Sichuan, a Government spokesman said today (January 22).

The HKSAR has been actively supporting reconstruction work in the quake-stricken areas. In July 2008, the LegCo approved a commitment of $2 billion for injection into the Fund to support the HKSARG's reconstruction support work in the first stage.

The HKSAR Government signed the "Co-operation Arrangement on Support of Restoration and Reconstruction in the Sichuan Earthquake Stricken Areas" with the People's Government of Sichuan Province in Chengdu on October 11, 2008. The Cooperation Arrangement covers the basic principles, 20 first-stage reconstruction projects, project and fund management, as well as liaison and co-ordination mechanisms.

The list of 20 first-stage reconstruction support projects was drawn up after discussion with the Sichuan Government, having regard to the "State Council Circular on the Overall Planning for Post-Wenchuan Earthquake Restoration and Reconstruction" (Reconstruction Overall Planning) and the actual needs of the quake-stricken areas.

It covers five school reconstruction projects, nine medical facilities projects, four integrated social services centres, one highway and one project on drawing up of plans, estimated to involve a commitment of around RMB1.665 billion (HK$1.905 billion).

In line with the "Government-led, full community involvement" approach and to consolidate efforts by all sectors of the community, the Fund has been inviting applications from non-governmental organisations in Hong Kong since mid-October 2008 for proposals to assist in the reconstruction work in the quake-stricken areas of Sichuan. It has so far approved 12 applications in the first phase, in the areas of education, medical services, physical and psychological rehabilitation, and training schemes.

The spokesman said the HKSAR had received two batches of recommended projects from the Sichuan Government.

Twenty of the first batch of projects recommended by Sichuan have been confirmed for implementation in the first stage. The remaining 33 first-batch projects not yet funded involve an estimated commitment of about RMB1.749 billion, equivalent to about HK$2.002 billion.

The total commitment required for the 132 second-batch projects recommended by Sichuan is estimated to be about RMB4.256 billion, equivalent to about HK$4.869 billion.

"Owing to resource constraints, we need to set priorities for Sichuan's recommended projects and take forward the reconstruction support work in stages having regard to the resources available," the spokesman said.

"All along, we have maintained close contact with the relevant Sichuan authorities under the established co-ordination and communication channel and exchanged views on how priorities should be set."

Both sides consider that the following should be taken into account in short-listing the second stage projects:

(a) According to the understanding reached between the two sides, Hong Kong will take part in the reconstruction of public services facilities, infrastructural facilities and the reconstruction of the Wolong Natural Reserve.

(b) In line with the general direction of the Reconstruction Overall Planning and the needs of the quake-stricken areas, priority should be accorded to the important livelihood facilities, such as schools and medical and rehabilitation facilities, as far as possible. Hong Kong has also considered Sichuan's initial views on the order of priorities.

(c) Consideration should be given to including Sichuan's recommended projects with preparation work already advanced to the more mature stage in the second stage list for implementation, while the remaining ones can be considered at a latter stage.

As stated in the Co-operation Arrangement, on the basis of compliance with the relevant financial legislation and regulations of the HKSAR, the Hong Kong side agrees in principle to fund the remaining first-batch projects recommended by Sichuan which have not yet been funded, and will put forward a funding application to the LegCo in due course to continue to take forward the implementation of reconstruction work.

"After signing the Co-operation Arrangement, we have all along maintained close contact and communication with the relevant Sichuan authorities to discuss the project details and take forward the project preparation work jointly. We also conducted a number of site visits. Preparation for these first-stage remaining projects is now relatively more mature. It is recommended that all of the 33 first-batch remaining projects be included in the HKSAR's second-stage reconstruction plan for implementation as early as possible.

"After receiving the list of second-batch projects recommended by the Sichuan Government, we have conducted a number of study missions in Sichuan with a view to enhancing our understanding of the local situation on-the-spot. We also met with local officials and exchanged views on the projects concerned with a view to short-listing suitable projects for inclusion in the next stage implementation plan. After preliminary studies, the HKSAR Government's relevant bureaux and departments have short-listed 70 projects from the second-batch recommended project list which merit in-principle support and early implementation," the spokesman said. The estimated commitment required is about RMB1.696 billion, equivalent to about HK$1.941 billion, covering 52 education, 15 medical and three social welfare projects.

The spokesman said the Government proposed to seek the LegCo's approval to increase the commitment by $4 billion now to take forward the HKSAR's second stage reconstruction support work, covering the following 103 projects in different areas:

(i) A total of 80 education, medical and rehabilitation, and social welfare projects. Regarding schools, Sichuan’s target is to substantially complete the reconstruction of basic schooling facilities by September 2009. The planned medical and rehabilitation and social welfare projects are also to provide urgently needed services for the quake-stricken areas. There is a pressing need for early implementation of these projects.

(ii) A total of 23 projects are related to the reconstruction of the Wolong Natural Reserve, which is located in a mountainous area. The weather is extremely cold during the winter months of December to February, with heavy snowfall, thus making it unsuitable for construction works. The Wenchuan earthquake inflicted devastating damage to the area, necessitating urgent reconstruction works as soon as possible. The Sichuan Government is keen to have the reconstruction works begun by the first quarter of 2009.

"We will liaise closely with the Sichuan side to refine the estimated project costs. We will also discuss with the HKJC to explore the possibility for them to undertake some of Sichuan's recommended projects from the remaining funds reserved for supporting reconstruction in Sichuan. We will also consider liaising with some local commercial enterprises and encourage them to sponsor some of the projects. We will have regard to the progress of the preparatory work and the position of the Fund in discussing the list of the HKSAR's second-stage reconstruction projects. If necessary, we will also exercise flexibility and make suitable adjustments to the list of recommended projects and the relevant project details as appropriate," the spokesman said.

Besides the 70 short-listed projects recommended for implementation in the second stage, there are 62 remaining projects out of the 132 second-batch projects recommended by Sichuan. The estimated commitment for these projects is RMB2.559 billion, equivalent to about HK$2.928 billion, covering education, medical, social welfare, transport infrastructure and cultural and sports facilities.

"The Administration will proceed having due regard to its resource capability. Our overall objective is that the HKSAR's reconstruction support work will not exceed HK$10 billion in financial terms. We will have regard to the general direction of the Reconstruction Overall Plan, the actual needs of the quake-stricken areas and the progress of the HKSAR's reconstruction support work in considering the next stage reconstruction support plan and will submit a concrete proposal to the LegCo in due course," the spokesman said.

Ends/Thursday, January 22, 2009
Issued at HKT 15:09

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