New towns need better local government

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 November, 2007, 12:00am

The marchers were dignified and orderly. There was much good cheer and community spirit but also, understandably, anger and sorrow among the hundreds of residents and their supporters who marched yesterday in their hometown in Tin Shui Wai and rallied outside government headquarters in Central, demanding better community services.

If nothing else, the protest showed there was far more spirit and hope in this new town in northwestern New Territories than the 'city of sadness' tag with which it has been labelled would suggest.

Yesterday's protest called attention to much-needed social services, including calls for a community hospital and cheaper public transport. It was, however, mainly organised by the pro-democracy Civic Party and Democratic Party.

Older districts have their own local representatives. New Territories villages have their heads and the Heung Yee Kuk. Unfortunately, new towns like Tin Shui Wai have to wait for outside parties to rally them because they do not have home-grown community leaders to speak for them.

There is no question that the new town's social service network urgently needs to be strengthened. But something more fundamental needs to be addressed.

If there is a case for strengthening local government, it is Tin Shui Wai. Its residents should not have to wait for outside help or the government's slow bureaucratic wheels to turn. It needs to develop its own community bodies and representatives who can speak out and quickly mobilise much-needed resources, such as day care and medical services, before the next crisis arises.

In many other parts of the world, towns as big and populous as Tin Shui Wai usually have their own elected or appointed mayors developing the best social programmes that meet the needs of the local population. Here, the fact that residents have to take their case to the seat of government says a lot about the impotence of our local councils. Until such impotence is addressed, it is wishful thinking to expect the problems of this and other new towns can be resolved by Central-based bureaucrats siphoning more money to the districts.