Equal Opportunities Commission

New blood a healthy sign for EOC

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 April, 2005, 12:00am

The Equal Opportunities Commission has had more than its fair share of 'fresh starts' in recent years.

There have been three changes of leadership since 2003. During that time the organisation has been engulfed in a series of damaging scandals. These events prompted an inquiry by a government-appointed panel, which made 70 recommendations for reform in February. Two internal reviews have also been completed by the commission.

But the decision that provides the best platform for the important anti-discrimination body to wipe the slate clean was announced this week.

The Home Affairs Bureau revealed on Tuesday that the entire 15-member board is to be replaced. Thirteen new appointments have already been made. This injection of new blood is long overdue. It will remove commissioners who became embroiled in the recent scandals. The appointments will also bring the commission into line with the government's guidelines for statutory bodies. Members are not supposed to serve for more than six years.

Some of the outgoing commissioners have been with the organisation since it was launched in 1996. Last year, confidence was further shaken when seven commissioners who had already served at least six years were reappointed by then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. The move reinforced a perception that the government was determined to keep its favourites in place.

The decision to appoint an entirely new board, therefore, makes a refreshing change. It will help the ongoing process of rebuilding the commission's reputation.

A diverse group of commissioners has been selected. It should bring new ideas to the body and make it more representative of the people who need it most.

Among the new commissioners will be the general secretary of the Spastics' Association and the executive director of Harmony House, which helps victims of domestic violence. A human resources expert is also on the list, which will help deal with the many employment-related issues that are brought before the commission. The appointment of the first commissioner from the South Asian ethnic minority, Saeed Uddin, is a positive move - especially with laws against racial discrimination in the pipeline.

There is, however, still room for improvement in the process by which appointments are made. The investigation panel suggested that a nomination committee be set up to select commissioners. This would make the appointments more independent and objective.

We hope this idea has been taken up in the commission's internal reviews, the results of which are yet to be made public.

There is also much work to be done in reforming the statutory and advisory bodies generally. Most of them could do with new faces and a more diverse membership. The procedures adopted by these bodies, which often meet in private, should be much more transparent.

The government launched a review in 2002. But it is still dragging on. In each of his last two policy addresses, Mr Tung pledged to make these bodies more representative of the public. This should not be delayed any longer. It is all part of helping make sure the government is in tune with the people.

It is possible that the complete change in personnel for the board marks the beginning of a new approach by the government. We hope so.

There is perhaps evidence of a new broom at work here - a move away from the less radical approach adopted by Mr Tung. If so, it would be good to see acting Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen applying the new policy - and broadening it - when tackling other statutory and advisory bodies.

The commission is important to Hong Kong. It is sad that it had to endure the troubles of recent times. Now, it has a good chance to get back on track - thanks to a healthy dose of new blood.