More must be done to bridge the gap

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 December, 2004, 12:00am

Seven months have passed since the government decided there was a need to change the political system. Since then, the case for reform has strengthened. Ample evidence is to be found in the events of the past few weeks.

Public opinion has effectively vetoed plans by developers to demolish the Hunghom Peninsula. It has also played a part in derailing the Link Reit listing. The West Kowloon cultural district faces strong opposition and risks suffering the same fate. There is a gap between the government and the people that is not being bridged.

Part of this is due to the failings of the Tung administration. But the flawed nature of the political system also plays a significant part. There is a need for big improvements to be made on both fronts.

Let us deal with the government's inadequacies (as President Hu Jintao described them) first. Our senior officials have still not grasped the purpose of public consultation. It is not about seeking to ram through predetermined policies - and then withdrawing them at the last minute if the public's opposition proves too strong.

A consultation should be used to objectively listen to the community's views. It involves keeping an open mind. These opinions must then be taken into account when the relevant policy is formulated.

This does not mean that the government has to do everything the majority wants. But it does have to keep public opinion in mind and work with the community to arrive at policies that will enjoy support. The process should be like one of negotiation. But the government seems to lurch from imposition to capitulation instead.

Regrettably, there has been little sign of this lesson being learned, despite the recent pledges to improve governance.

Since the mass demonstration on July1 last year, we have seen one government policy after another fall in the face of public opposition. This has taken the form of protests, civic action campaigns and sometimes legal action. Article 23 laws, the Wan Chai reclamation, changes to polling hours and the super-jail project have all been scuppered.

The government must lift its game. But even if Mr Tung were the best politician in the world, problems would still arise. This is because of the political system. It creates an 'executive led' government that cannot lead; a government that does not have sufficient legitimacy or a guaranteed support base in Legco. The system also deprives the public of participation and representation.

As a result, the government is not trusted and its policies are challenged either on the streets or in the courts. The system is not conducive to stability, unity or harmony. This was effectively recognised by the government in April when it concluded that there was a need for the system to be changed.

The reform process now under way offers an opportunity to devise arrangements that will make Hong Kong easier to govern. Our officials should be doing everything they can to make sure we get the most representative system possible within the limits imposed by Beijing. We do not need a consultation to know that this is what the public wants.

The latest report issued by the taskforce on constitutional reform seems to suggest that the 'mainstream' proposal is likely to be a conservative one. If so, an opportunity is going to be missed. We could even end up with Legco voting the proposal down - saddling the government with five more years of a system under which it is already labouring.

Recent events have shown that the governance crisis that arose last year was not because of Sars or the poor performance of the economy. It goes much deeper than that.

Our officials must work harder to bridge the gap between the government and the people. But that will become much easier if we have a political system through which the people can exercise some power.