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Prosecution of kindergarten operators for overcharging and over-enrolment of pupils

LEGCO QUESTION NO. 14(WRITTEN REPLY)


Date of Meeting: 14 June 2000



Asked by : The Hon Emily LAU

Replied by : Secretary for Education and Manpower

Question :

Will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

  1. if they have made a decision, or when they will make a decision, on whether or not to prosecute the operators of Gloria English Primary School and Kindergarten and Gloria Kindergarten (Norfolk Extension) for overcharging school fees in the 1997-98 school year; if they have decided not to prosecute, of the reasons for that;

  2. of the reasons for imposing a higher fine only, but not lengthening the term of imprisonment, for overcharging and over-enrolment by kindergartens, when they proposed amendments to the relevant legislation; and

  3. whether they will strengthen the monitoring efforts and adopt special measures to prevent overcharging of school fees and over-enrolment of pupils by kindergartens during the enrolment period in the next school year, and assist parents in obtaining information on the approved maximum numbers of kindergarten intake and fees?


Reply:

Madam President,

a. The Education Department has sought legal advice from the Department of Justice regarding the case of overcharging of school fees by the Gloria English Primary School and Kindergarten and the Gloria Kindergarten (Norfolk Extension). The Department of Justice has advised that the offences proscribed under the Education Ordinance are subject to section 26 of the Magistrates Ordinance, which provides that "in any case of an offence, other than an indictable offence, where no time is limited by any enactment for making any complaint or laying any information in respect of such offence, such complaint shall be made or such information laid within 6 months from the time when the matter of such complaint or information respectively arose." Since the Education Ordinance does not specify a time limit, prosecution action against an offender for breach of the Ordinance must be instituted within six months after the occurrence of the offence. As the overcharging of school fees by the two kindergartens in the 1997/98 school year was only brought to the attention of the Education Department by parents in mid-1999, prosecution action could not be taken under the existing law. The Department is taking active steps to consider amending the provisions in the Education Ordinance with a view to extending the time limit for prosecution.

As regards parents' claims for refund of school fees overcharged for the 1997/98 school year, the Consumer Council has already approached the supervisor of the kindergartens for the purpose of mediation. The Education Department will liaise closely with the Consumer Council to provide the necessary information, and will keep a close watch on the development of the case.

The kindergartens concerned have not breached any regulations on charging of school fees this year. The Department will closely monitor their operation to prevent recurrence of similar incidences. The Kowloon City District Education Office will also step up supervision by making quarterly inspection visits to the two kindergartens. If necessary, the Audit Section of the Department will also deploy staff to check the accounts of the schools.
b. We have recently increased the fines under the Education Ordinance and the Education Regulations. The increases in the fine for over-enrolment in contravention of regulation 87 from $5,000 to $250,000, and that for overcharging of fees in contravention of regulation 61 from $5,000 to $50,000, should have sufficient deterrent effect. We have also reviewed the imprisonment terms specified in the Ordinance and the Regulations. We consider the existing provisions appropriate and have not proposed any change. This has the support of the Legislative Council Panel on Education.
c. The Education Department has adopted the following measures to prevent overcharging of school fees and over-enrolment by kindergartens, and to assist parents in obtaining basic information about kindergartens :
  1. The Department will, in collaboration with the Committee on Home-School Cooperation, continue to publish the School Profiles of Kindergartens for reference by parents. When the profiles for the 2000/01 school year are compiled later this year, information on enrolment, school fees and other charges made by kindergartens will be included.
  2. A circular was issued to supervisors of kindergartens in April this year to remind them of the rules and regulations which must be complied with when collecting school fees, registration fees and entrance examination fees. The circular also requires kindergartens to include in their pamphlets or admission application forms such basic information as school registration, enrolment, expected number of pupils to be admitted, school fees and other charges, so as to increase the transparency of their operation.
  3. A Central Compliance Team was established in May this year to co-ordinate and handle matters relating to irregularities in schools.
  4. At the beginning of the 2000/01 school year, inspectors from the Department will conduct headcount visits to kindergartens with past records of over-enrolment.
  5. During inspections to kindergartens with past records of overcharging, information concerning school fees and other charges, such as notices and receipts, will be examined.
We believe that the above preventive and monitoring measures, coupled with the recent increases in fines, should have an adequate deterrent effect.
Last revision date: 14 June 2000
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