Empower district councils

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 December, 2003, 12:00am

Opposed by the Liberal Party and the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, the motion proposed by the Democratic Party urging the chief executive to appoint as few district councillors as possible was defeated in Legco on Wednesday as expected.

Democracy should be respected, but I doubt that anything of practical value can be achieved before we seriously review the roles and functions of the district councils.

Founded in 1981, they have undergone a series of transformations in their status, structure, composition, power and functions. After 1997, with the abandonment of the Urban Council and Regional Council, the 18 district councils were expected to have a more important role in local politics than before.

However, because of conservatism in the government, the district councils continue to serve as only a window-dressing, consultative body, having no actual power in policy-making and resource-allocation concerning their districts.

Apart from organising some welfare projects and campaigns among citizens, the significance of the councils is dubious. If their function is just to serve as welfare bodies for local residents, then it may be good to appoint as many 'professionals' as possible in order to gain their opinions on local projects. But if the councils are to serve as a local parliament with more political power, we have to consider seriously whether any appointed member can truly represent the electorate and sincerely reflect public opinion.

Discussions on whether the appointment system should be abolished are futile without further re-examining the functions of the councils. I suggest that the government reform the councils to make them more democratic, giving them some political power in formulating and implementing local policies.

Such a move could encourage public participation in local politics and in turn increase the sense of belonging in the community. It would also show respect for democracy by the government and help it to regain its popularity.

The government should not worry that the empowerment of the councils will render it a lame-duck. The nub of the issue is how to improve co-ordination between the central administration and the district councils.

If the government can guarantee more support for its policy at the district level, social cohesiveness which is utterly lacking in Hong Kong would also be enhanced.