As 2nd Defendant in Ms. Lama Inu’s High Court case for damages and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment (CIDTP), the Social Welfare Department (“SWD”) submitted a sworn affirmation that includes these three statements:
SWD claim 1: “There is no monetary-equivalent ceiling on humanitarian assistance, including rental allowance”
VF comment: This is a big lie. Thousands of refugees can testify that 1200$ was an absolute ceiling for more than 99% of refugees for years. Only a tiny number with serious medical problems received 1500$ after struggling with their case workers. To dispel doubts, ISS-HK must produce tables showing how many refugees received 1200$ and 1500$ between 2010 and 2014.
SWD claim 2: “There is no monetary-equivalent ceiling on how much an individual service user in genuine need may receive”
VF comment: Another big lie. First, all refugees are in desperate need no matter whether healthy or sick because nobody has savings or can work. Second, employing ‘genuine’ in this context is vastly misleading. SWD is not the Immigration Department and as such cannot distinguish genuine from non-genuine cases. Third, thousands of refugees can testify to the 1200$ rent assistance ceiling prior to the February 2014 enhanced welfare package.
SWD claim 3: “Assistance recipients who are in need of rental allowance higher than the amount in the grid …” could apply for and receive it.
VF comment: Thousands of refugees can produce evidence proving that demands for rent assistance were systematically refused. We invite SWD to hold a press conference and publicly state these affirmations to 5704 clients currently mishandled by ISS-HK.
Noting that perjury is a criminal offense, the SWD is invited to reconcile the above three sworn affirmations with the facts contained in this email sent by Vision First to SWD Assistant Director Mr. Fung Man-Chung and Deputy Director Mr. Lam Ka-tai on 1 April 2014.
Dear Mr. Fung -
The High Court injunction was lifted because the judge trusted that the SWD contractor ISS-HK would performs its duties towards and stop discriminating against the plaintiff family. That might have been the SWD’s intention and understanding as 2nd Defendant.
Mr. Justice Au would be unpleased to learn that this is not the case. While it is unlikely that he will hear the damage and CIDTP claim that Mrs. Lama Inu and family will bring against your department, the following developments will be brought to the Court’s attention in due course.
Prior to the injunctive hearing, ISS case worker Ms. Helen Lee misled the plaintiffs, and in some measure the court, by offering Ms. Lama a 6000$ monthly rent budget and a two-bedroom flat in Cheung Sha Wan that was to be viewed on Monday, 31 March 2014.
Once the hearing was over, Ms. Lee reverted to her old ways and ceased being proactive, helpful and supportive of Ms. Lama. It is noteworthy that such an about-face was entirely predictable.
Most observers would agree this is spiteful and vengeful behavior from a woman who fails to understand her role in the upcoming damage and CIDTP claim, in which her attentive care would be a mitigating factor.
At this stage, we draw your attention to these facts:
- Ms. Lee failed to show a two-bedroom flat to Ms. Lama on Monday, or today;
- Ms. Lee withdrew the 6000$ rent assistance budget, reducing it to the 4500$ that led to the original injunction;
- Ms. Lee made no effort to identify a suitable flat for the family;
- Ms. Lee told the family to find a new home themselves when they have no resource or connections or to do so;
- Ms. Lee advised Ms. Lama to seek further rent assistance (above 4500$) from NGOs, in contravention of the Court of Final Appeal “Madam Kung” judgment;
- Ms. Lee refused to support Ms. Lama with two months security deposit, stating there are no rules on the matter, in contravention to the SWD letter to ISS on the Enhanced Welfare Package;
- Ms. Lee advised Ms. Lama to seek further deposit assistance (above the first month) from NGOs, in contravention of the Court of Final Appeal “Madam Kung” judgment.
It appears that after the High Court injunction was lifted, Ms. Lee reverted to harmful, discriminating tactics to further humiliate and torment a fragile lady for whom she never had any sympathy.
Ms. Lama may be reached at 54074415
We would be grateful for your urgent attention to this matter repeating our advice to change Ms. Lama’s ISS case worker in view of the upcoming damage and CIDTP claim.
The Refugee Union showed big support for Madam Lama in her fight for justice against ISS-HK and SWD in breach of their duties. The Union pushed back against an oppressive and abusive welfare system that fails to meet their most basic needs and leaves them destitute.
Madam Lama was represented pro bono by barristers Robert Tibbo and Mark Sutherland. Mr. Tibbo reminded the court that it is the government responsibility to meet asylum seekers and refugees’ material needs as they are prohibited from working.
Concerns were raised that without the injunction being extended, ISS-HK and SWD would fall back towards the dereliction of duty and egregious behaviour that made Madam Lama and family homeless twice in ten days. ISS-HK has lost all credibility with the refugee community.
These are issues of security of the individual, of both physical and psychological integrity, as refugees are marginalized and discriminated against as a clearly defined social group based on immigration status. As such Hong Kong government violates their rights to security.
Madam Lama and family required certainty that they will not be mistreated, mishandled and end up back on the street. It was noted that ISS-HK and SWD were in breach of fiduciary duties towards this vulnerable family.
Drawing attention to Madam Lama’s affirmation, Mr. Sutherland pointed out the absence of harmonious, uninterrupted welfare over three years of assistance that portrayed troubling gaps in services.
For years Madam Lama had to beg from friends and church to fill gaps that are the government responsibility, which was totally disgraceful. Welfare was sporadic and humiliating. It degraded this family by offering partial assistance, but not enough to switch the lights on.
The court attention was drawn to the government’s failure to meet refugees’ basic needs, an undesirable situation that left people desperately stuck in a corner without options, sufficient assistance or the right to work. Mr. Sutherland concluded, “We are here to seek proper justice in Hong Kong where the rule of law prevails.”
The Honorable Mister Justice Au was not persuaded that the injunction should continue and dismissed the summons trusting that ISS-HK would suitably house Madam Lama and family. It is understood that arrangements have been made for the family to view a two-bedroom flat on Monday.
The Refugee Union filed this High Court writ to warn ISS-HK to conscientiously perform their duty towards their members who will no longer passively submit to abuse and humiliation.
ISS-HK case workers are not likely to forget the lessons learnt from “Occupy ISS” and the High Court injunction. ISS-HK has been put on notice that refugees will strike hard when mistreated and have nothing to lose in the struggle for justice.
The emergency injunction phase of this court action is over. ISS-HK will certainly be more proactive in housing homeless refugees and ensuring that rent is fully paid for the most vulnerable. The case for damages now begins and ISS-HK staff will be made accountable for years of abuse.
The Refugee Union has emerging as a credible force to safeguard rights and interests.
Ten months exposing refugee slums since May 2013 didn’t accomplish what the food crisis did in six weeks. While less than one thousand refugees live in slums, over four thousand depend on food distributed by the seven shops appointed by ISS-HK.
Few doubt that fraudulent practices deduct 1/3 value from food allocated monthly to refugees, who are jailed for 15 months if arrested working. Yesterday a Srilankan refugee lady was remanded in custody without bail after being charged with working illegally when ISS-HK didn’t pay her rent for months.
Last night a mother SMSed, “ISS say food per month is worth $1200, but I see my food price have maybe only $900. 5kg rice $55, 1 can milk powder $72, 1 pack Vitasoy $16.90, 1 bottle oil $28, onion $7, tomato $7, potato $7, eggs $10, 1 pack instant noodle $11, 1 chicken $40, 1 fish $30. Total $284 x 3 collections = $852 only.”
The distressed mother continued, “Even after change food [a new system started in February] also still like that. My big baby 4 cans of milk powder $920 + 3 biscuit $30 + juice $69= total $1019. My small baby 3 can milk powder $900. We don’t have $1200 per month each [as per SWD instructions to ISS-HK].
If imprisonment of refugees arrested working is unavoidable, it follows that the government has a moral and constitutional duty to meet refugees’ basic needs in general – accommodation and food in particular.
Vision First is very concerned that the food crisis will escalate. Reliable sources inform that the 7 ISS shops will stop distributing food in April 2014. The shop owners claim that ISS-HK hasn’t paid them for four to five months.
On 14 February 2014, ISS-HK wrote to the Refugee Union, “… all food suppliers are paid by ISS Hong Kong according to the amount of food ordered and dispensed on an actual disbursement basis. Payments to ISS by the Administration are made according to a payment schedule specified in the service contract. Unused money of the service project would be clawed back to the Administration at the project completion.”
In 2013 it was reported that ISS-HK returned to SWD over 60 million dollars unused, i.e. clawed back. Apparently SWD advanced ISS-HK 60 million dollars more than it required on a disbursement basis. That alone might have been financially reckless. These facts raise some red flags:
- ISS-HK operates on a disbursement basis, but in 2013 SWD overpaid ISS-HK about 60 million dollars;
- ISS-HK distributes 4.8 million dollars in food a month, but shops claim to be owed 24 million dollars for the past 5 months;
- ISS-HK distribute 4.8 million dollars in food a month, but 30% fails to reach refugees.
As the SWD-ISS Contract and accounting books remain strictly confidential, a certain degree of speculation is unavoidable. Given the investigation of ISS-HK, it is plausible that SWD froze to its rogue contractor in February.
This would explain why ISS-HK had no liquidity to pay the shops for food distributed in one month. The deepening crisis in March would then explain reimbursements stopped for two months. But why are the shops complaining about not being paid for four to five months?
- Is it possible that ISS-HK didn’t pay millions of dollars to the shops on ‘an actual disbursement basis’?
- Is it possible that ISS-HK didn’t pay millions of dollars to landlords on time?
- Is it possible that ISS-HK didn’t pay millions of dollars owed refugees for utilities, cooking gas, toiletries and transportation?
- If the SWD is not responsible for payment delays and failures, who is?
- Could such payment issues mask serious improprieties?