Advisory board rule breaches take a drop

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 February, 2009, 12:00am

Some 185 people appointed to government advisory boards are flouting regulations by serving longer than the maximum length of service allowed. But the number of such government breaches has dropped significantly over the past five years, latest records from the Home Affairs Bureau show.

A total of 3,400 people were holding 5,370 government-appointed, non-official seats on 410 advisory and statutory bodies, as at December 31, the bureau said.

Among the appointees, 185 had served for more than six years, exceeding the maximum length of service specified by the government.

And even though a rule bans appointees from sitting on more than six boards, one person was a member of seven boards at the end of last year, with the term on one board expiring on December 31.

In comparison, 1,695 appointees breached the 'six-year rule' and 45 the 'six-board rule' as at March 31, 2004. The figures came to light after a public consultation was held in 2003 as part of a general review of the functions of advisory bodies.

In a review paper drafted in 2003, the bureau suggested winding up redundant advisory boards and keeping the total number to a minimum. There were 495 boards listed in February 2004, compared to 410 now.

But the number of advisory bodies had actually increased.

The apparent drop in number was largely due to the removal of 106 district-based committees from the category of 'advisory bodies'. The groups still exist with their functions unchanged.

New advisory boards were formed because of need, a spokeswoman for the bureau said, citing as examples the consultation committees on the West Kowloon Cultural District. Some boards, such as a commission on poverty, were dissolved after they completed their tasks, she said.

The bureau had also proposed increasing the proportion of women, young people, the disabled and ethnic minorities serving on government boards.

Some 27.5 per cent of appointees last year were women, the bureau said, an increase from 21.9 per cent in February 2004. It said 2.8 per cent of board members last year were under 35. No previous figure was available for comparison.

For statistics on people with disabilities and ethnic minorities, the bureau said it had only incomplete information because the boards were not required to share that information with the administration.

Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the situation was disappointing.

'A lot of appointments are still against the regulations. It is unacceptable,' she said.

'The proportion of women is also far from satisfactory. In Nordic countries, it is specified that each gender should account for no less than 40 per cent of these positions.'

Ip Kwok-him, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the increased compliance with the appointment rules was a positive sign. But he added: 'It is good that more people are advising the government now. Sometimes you have to be flexible [with the rules] as some people really have the experience and are suitable candidates to continue service.'