Scepticism over power shuffle plan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am

District councils will finally be given more power to run their own affairs, with the chief executive promising to start decentralisation after a public consultation early next year.

Under the plan, the 18 district councils will be allowed to manage facilities such as libraries, community halls, leisure grounds, sports venues and swimming pools.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen will meet chairmen and vice-chairmen of the councils today. The plan could be implemented as early as April.

While the move - announced in the policy address as part of the strategy to improve governance - was praised by district councillors, critics dismissed it as a cosmetic concession that would be difficult to carry out.

Since the scrapping of the two municipal councils in 1999, government departments have been managing leisure and sports facilities at the district level. Despite repeated promises by the government to transfer some powers held by the former municipal councils to district councils, there had not been any substantial action.

'The role of the district councils will be expanded,' Mr Tsang said. 'We will continue to make available more channels for the public to participate in the management of district affairs.'

The role of district officers, who are senior civil servants deployed to the 18 districts, will also be strengthened. But since the Basic Law means the councils are restricted to being advisory bodies, their decisions will only be channelled by the district officers to the relevant departments to be carried out.

A source at the Home Affairs Bureau said the district bodies would not be allowed to oversee all government facilities in their district because major venues such as Victoria Park and the Central Library were deemed city-wide facilities controlled by the government. A list of what will and will not be managed by the councils has yet to be drawn up.

Councillors generally agreed it was a move in the right direction to increase their roles, but most were sceptical. Lau Wong-fat, the councils' representative in Legco, said more power should be given to the councils.

'We should also be given the power to assess the performance of the district officers, making sure they will carry out our decisions, because if they don't, they will never dream of getting promoted,' Mr Lau said.

Henry Chan Man-yu, chairman of Yau Tsim Mong District Council, said the plan was 'useless' because the councils were not local governments and lacked the power to direct government departments to carry out their decisions.

Legislator Chan Kam-lam, who is also a district councillor of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged the government to state clearly the power of the councils, to avoid management problems.