LCQ2: Internet Learning Support Programme
Following is a question by the Hon Fred Li Wah-ming and a reply by the Acting Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (May 25):
In the 2010-11 Financial Year, the Government allocated $220 million for implementing the Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) through a non-profit making organisation to assist needy families in the community acquire Internet access service and computers. It has been reported that five organisations submitted proposals for ILSP and the Government exceptionally recommended collaboration among two of them. One of the organisations, the eInclusion Foundation Limited, being formed by the Internet Professional Association (iProA) which is closely affiliated with a political party, and another partner organisation, lacks any track record; the other organisation, the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, however objected to the collaboration recommendation. It has also been reported that there is public concern as to whether the personal data of those members of the public who participated in ILSP will be misused. On the other hand, Mr Jeremy Godfrey, the former Government Chief Information Officer who led the ILSP assessment work, suddenly resigned in January this year. While the Government indicated that he resigned for personal reasons, Mr Godfrey said in his letter addressed to the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of this Council in April after his leaving the Government that "the personal reasons" for his resignation were unrelated to his health or private life, but related to the conduct of government business. He further mentioned that his proposed corrections and clarifications would raise serious public interest questions, but the Government did not give permission for him to publicly elaborate the issues. In this connection, will the Administration inform this Council:
(a) why the Government deviated from the original arrangement of engaging one Implementer as set out in the funding submission, and changed to a dual-Implementer approach; and why the Government did not seek permission from the Finance Committee before making such a change; whether the recommendation of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB) for two organisations to collaborate in ILSP implementation is an abnormal arrangement; and whether CEDB had recommended the collaboration of two bidders in any of her tender exercises conducted in the past three years;
(b) whether they will permit Mr Godfrey to attend the meetings of the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting of this Council so that Mr Godfrey may explain his work as well as the role of other relevant persons in handling ILSP; and
(c) how they ensure that the aforesaid two organisations will not misuse the personal data of members of the public obtained in the implementation of ILSP for the benefits of any political party and organisations concerned?
The five-year Internet Learning Support Programme (ILSP) aims to assist students from some 300 000 low-income families to acquire affordable computers and Internet access service, and provide them with user and social support.
To implement the ILSP, the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) launched an open Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise between May 18 and July 5, 2010. By the deadline for submission, five proposals were received. They were evaluated in accordance with the published process and criteria. Two leading proponents, i.e. the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) and eInclusion Foundation Limited (eInclusion), emerged.
The terms of the RFP were such that the selected proponent should nominate a limited company established under the Company Ordinance and satisfying the provisions for being exempted from tax under the Inland Revenue Ordinance as the Implementer. HKCSS, founded in 1947, undertook to establish a new Implementer if selected. In the case of eInclusion, it is a newly formed non-profit organisation and could readily serve as the Implementer if selected. It comprises two core partners, the Boys' & Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong (BGCA) and the Internet Professional Association (iProA). BGCA has been providing community service since its inception in 1936 while iProA has been providing various information technology (IT) professional services since its establishment in 1999. The Implementer needs to liaise with community bodies as well as IT suppliers to help eligible families acquire Internet access service and procure computers, and to provide them with technical and social support. The partner organisations of eInclusion have the requisite experience and expertise in this regard. Hence, it is incorrect and unfair to say that they "lack any track record" as stated in the question.
Regarding the three-part question raised by the Honourable Fred Li Wah-ming, my reply is as follows:
(a) The Government assessed the five proposals in accordance with the published process and criteria and, upon completion of the evaluation and a procedural review, identified two leading proposals submitted by HKCSS and eInclusion respectively. The former Government Chief Information Officer concluded that it would be in the best interests of low-income families if the programme could be executed so as to incorporate the best elements of the two leading proposals. Upon conclusion of the RFP exercise, the Government invited HKCSS and eInclusion to explore the possibility of collaboration in jointly establishing a non-profit organisation to implement the programme. The Government engaged HKCSS and eInclusion in intensive discussions in November and December 2010 to explore possible collaboration arrangements. While HKCSS and eInclusion share the belief in the benefits of ILSP to low-income families and are fully committed to ensuring its successful delivery, there was difficulty reaching agreement on a collaboration model to co-found an implementation agent to take it forward. The Government therefore reviewed various fallback options carefully, including forming an FSI (Financial Secretary Incorporated) company, OGCIO acting as implementer, single tendering/retendering, and dual-implementer approach with HKCSS and eInclusion as Implementers in different geographical districts. Having regard to procedural concerns, accountability, speed of securing stakeholder's agreement and finalising implementation details, and resource implications etc., the Government decided that engaging HKCSS and eInclusion to implement the programme in two geographical zones would be the fallback in the event that co-founding one implementation agent could not materialise. In early January 2011, when it became evident that attempts to invite HKCSS and eInclusion to co-found a single implementer failed, the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau offered, and HKCSS and eInclusion accepted, a dual implementation approach.
With the engagement of two non-profit organisations by the Government as implementation agents, the target beneficiaries and the overall funding commitment under the programme would remain the same, and are in line with the objective and scope of the commitment as approved by the Finance Committee. On April 18, 2011, we submitted an information note on the rationale for implementing the ILSP by separate organisations to the Finance Committee.
According to our records, there is a precedent case in the past three years in which we recommended collaboration among different proponents. During an Expression of Interest exercise conducted for the implementation of the District Cyber Centre Pilot Scheme in 2008, OGCIO had identified three leading proposals (submitted by the Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company Limited, the Information Technology Resource Centre of HKCSS and the iProA) from 23 proposals received, and considered that their collaboration would bring the greatest benefits to programme implementation. Upon invitation by OGCIO, these three organisations subsequently formed the District Cyber Centres Alliance to jointly implement the scheme to support 57 computer centres located across the territory to provide needy groups with Internet access service, computers and associated equipment as well as training to facilitate their adoption of information and communications technology.
(b) Mr Godfrey initially requested corrections and clarifications on his role in the ILSP selection process and disclosure of related confidential information. It is the personal nature of his stated request that the Government considers hard to accept as the basis to merit the waiving of confidentiality rule on the ILSP deliberations. Hence, his request was declined. Given his subsequent statements on "public interest questions", the Government's reputation is seriously at stake. There is a need for the Government's perspective to be properly presented and understood in context. We reiterate that the ILSP selection process was conducted in a fair manner and guided only by what is best for the project in overall terms. As a practical way forward, we have informed Mr Godfrey that the Government would not object to his disclosing to the Panel on Information Technology and Broadcasting his note of corrections and clarifications and information relating to the ILSP selection process, provided that the disclosed information or claims is factually correct and based on evidence and to the extent that the disclosure is relevant and necessary for the sake of public interest.
(c) The Funding and Operation Agreements concluded between the Government and the two Implementers has included a provision mandating the Implementers to comply with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. Moreover, the personal data obtained during programme implementation can only be used for purposes directly related to ILSP and with consent from the persons concerned. OGCIO will closely monitor the performance of the Implementers to ensure effective programme execution and protection of any personal data collected.
Ends/Wednesday, May 25, 2011