An Octopus-like food assistance scheme

Post Date: May 31st, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Vision First proposes the following to partly address some of the most hideous problems refugees have identified in the system that supports their livelihood. We propose the following in the hope of sparking discussion in view of the imminent review of the contract with which the government outsourced its responsibilities in the care of refugees.

If we are to objectively judge the problems of the current system, we should acknowledge the fact that 80% of refugees sell substandard food rations for cash and a large percentage sell it back to the shops in a fraudulent practice reminiscent of what is generally called “The Revolving Door”.

The Revolving Door allows shop-owners to repeatedly resell the same food rations to refugees who take 40% of the cash value without physically collecting any groceries. This illicit arrangement maximizes shops’ profit by reducing purchasing cost, inventory, manpower and overhead expenses to the detriment of Hong Kong Government and tax-payers.

When the shops are not giving cash in-lieu of rations, unscrupulous middlemen, often asylum seekers themselves, purchase the rations to sell them back to the ISS-HK shops under cover of night, or to other food businesses or resident families.

Vision First is of the opinion that it is vitally important to expose such pervasive practices, not so much as to encourage law enforcement actions, and certainly not to increase stereotyping about cunning refugees selling their food as a demonstration that they don’t need further assistance.

We believe this practice must be exposed especially to counter widespread public and official misconceptions that refugees should not be trusted with cash or coupons to purchase their food. This is because they are erroneously believed to be, or depicted as already abusing the system.

In our opinion, however, it is the refugees themselves who are being cheated.

The point is that whether Hong Kong Government agrees or not to provide cash-for-food, 80% of 5700 refugees are cashing in food rations monthly. But in so doing they enrich the grocery shops arranging the scheme and other parties exploiting an utterly failed system.

By monetizing just 40% of a 1200$ food allowance, refugees only actually receive 480$. The government should be concerned about 49,248,000$ of tax-dollars vanishing yearly (i.e. 720$ x 5700 refugees x 12 months). There is little logic in continuing a fraudulent system that causes such an unacceptable loss.

The refugees are the first to lament this monumental failure in which many dishonest people are dipping their hands. And Vision First join them by urging the government to stop the embarrassment of the current misconceived system.

Vision First urges the government to give due consideration to a coupon system, or an Octopus-like card that is recharged with the food allowance when refugees report monthly for recognizance at the Immigration Department.

In addition, we propose that Social Welfare Department officers be seconded to the Immigration Department, where the Octopus-like cards would be topped up. At this “one stop” office for refugees, SWD case workers would expand their role to enquire about refugees’ wellbeing and ensure that cases of destitution and homelessness are avoided.

A scheme jointly operated by the SWD and Immigration would eradicate fraud while return purchasing power to refugees, who would appreciate the respect and responsibility with which they are treated.

This, of course, in the event that a welfare system predicated on deterrent purposes is not aimed to foster refugees’ subjugation to a faulty mechanism.