District councils' non-English outlook translates clearly into discrimination

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2012, 12:00am


The secretariats of district councils headed by the Home Affairs Department have taken the lead in linguistic discrimination against non-Chinese members of the public.

A telling example is Yau Tsim Mong district, which has a great number of non-Chinese-speaking residents. Dozens of South Asian as well as Caucasian residents in the district recently complained to me that the meeting papers and minutes uploaded onto the district council homepage are linguistically inaccessible to them.

Logging on to the English version of the homepage, I, as a district councillor, was taken aback by the paucity of English translation of our meeting documents. Over the past few years, district council secretariats have offered only sketchy one-page English reports of council meetings instead of full English versions of minutes. Our subcommittee meetings do not even have these one-page English reports.

I filed a complaint, and although I received a phone call from Yau Tsim Mong's district officer, I have still not been given a satisfactory explanation for this state of affairs.

The quality and quantity of English translations of documents of different district councils throughout Hong Kong vary. Only Southern District Council seems keen to get all its documents translated into English. This is probably because one of its members is non-Chinese.

Most district councils in Kowloon and the New Territories do not provide English versions of meeting papers and minutes. Nor are the council members passionate about submitting papers or delivering speeches in English, even though some of the regional issues in the meetings are related to the welfare of non-Chinese communities. As a result, these groups, especially ethnic minorities, are kept in the dark about discussions and decisions made in district councils.

To tackle this linguistic inequality and strive for a bilingual discourse in the 18 district councils in Hong Kong, I demand that:

All district council meeting papers and minutes be accessible to the public in English and Chinese;

Audio recordings of simultaneous English translations of council meetings (made when a non-Cantonese-speaking official is in attendance) be uploaded to the district council homepage; and

Some sessions in district council meetings be conducted in English if non-Chinese communities have a stake in the items on the agenda.

Chan Wai-keung, Yau Tsim Mong district councillor