Councillors baulk at plan to limit powers
Proposal aimed at expanding their roles also places restrictions on spending, making them 'co-managers', they say
Strict limits are being proposed on the management of community facilities by district councils, under a package said to be aimed at strengthening their roles and functions.
District leaders have reacted with dismay to the plans, in a consultation paper to be discussed by the Executive Council tomorrow, saying it makes them no more than 'co-managers'.
Under the proposals, the councils would be allowed to manage dozens of libraries, swimming pools, community halls, recreational parks and sports centres, senior government sources said.
But their powers would not extend to decisions that increase government spending, reduce revenue to the treasury or increase manpower.
They also would not be allowed to alter the government's overall culture and leisure policies.
This means the district politicians would not be able to decide on the construction of new amenities or cut charges for community facilities.
In other words, the councillors would be allowed to choose books for public libraries but not decide how much money is allocated to buying them.
'It is not management but only co-management, and is very limited. It is in essence a consultative committee,' said Wan Chai District Council chairwoman Ada Wong Ying-kay. 'A manager should have full powers to hire and fire, and alter the budget. So if the government does use the word 'managing' it will certainly be very misleading.'
Ambrose Cheung Wing-sum, a veteran Shamshuipo district councillor, said the reform proposals fell short of expectations.
'The government has said it wanted to strengthen our roles and functions. But we are still consultative bodies with no final say on issues. I think officials raised our hopes too much,' he said. The reforms, promised in Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's policy address, also elevate the role of district officers, now mostly junior officials, to help them better co-ordinate community affairs.
District councillors will also get a pay rise, but how much is not clear. Currently they are paid $17,000 a month, with expenses of about $200,000 a year.
'By raising our salaries, it might win over the pro-government councillors and deflect some of the strong demands for more power,' Ms Wong said. 'If councillors cannot do more than they can now, it will still not attract quality people to stand for elections at the district level and improve on the quality of administration.'
A senior official said major sites, such as the Central Library, City Hall and Victoria Park, would still be managed by the government.
A new management committee would be formed in each district to oversee the operation of facilities.
But the official said it had not yet been decided whether the district bodies would be allowed to allocate some public funds.
'It will be a bit like the old days of the Urban Council, where we submit our work plans, reports and proposals to them for approval. The district councils will then be responsible to explain their decisions to the residents.
'There are some guiding principles that the district councils should follow. Of course, there are some standards and protocols that they cannot change. For example, they cannot modify the books classification system in the library.
'It is hard to define who will have the final say [on an issue]. But we will follow their decisions as far as possible,' the official said.