Public gets brief glimpse of board at work

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 March, 2009, 12:00am

The first meeting of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority board was open to the public for less than four minutes yesterday - which critics said showed a lack of sincerity to the community.

The fourth board meeting, broadcast live on the Web, began with the first and only item that was open to a public audience.

'We feel that this is the best way to reach out and allow as many people as possible, in a convenient way, to participate,' board chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen said in explaining the decision to use a live webcast instead of opening the conference room to the public. Documents and the meeting agenda were uploaded on the authority's website in advance.

He started the meeting by reading out the gist of a paper on inviting consultancy studies for market analysis on museum and performance venues. 'Views?' he asked. No one responded. 'Agreed, thank you,' he replied. The webcast was then blacked out after 3 minutes and 51 seconds, ending the open session.

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit described the webcast as a 'farce' and 'window dressing'. 'If you're going to start a meaningful public engagement process, you first need to equip the public with information. I really don't have much expectation on this kind of so-called engagement. It's going to be a nightmare if the decision-making process continues to be so top-down.'

Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of the authority's consultation panel, said she was surprised such a short part of the meeting was open and said the arrangements showed a lack of respect to the public.

'The West Kowloon project belongs to the public, not the government nor the board. I don't see why so many topics are sensitive.' She urged the board to meet in a room with seats available for the public, for more engagement.

Charles Peter Mok, another panel member, said he was confused by the arrangement. 'I was sitting there after the blackout, wondering if the webcast would resume. The website doesn't set out the whole agenda.'

Board member Paul Chan Mo-po agreed that the brief open session appeared 'odd' to the audience and that some items on yesterday's agenda, such as public engagement activities, could have been discussed openly. Another board member, Allan Zeman, said he hoped meetings in the next few months 'will start to see some resemblance of a normal open meeting' after commercial tender winners were announced.

Mr Tang said in a press release that parts of future meetings that did not involve commercial and sensitive information would be open. The arrangement 'fully reflects the authority's principle of operating in a highly transparent manner and its spirit of being responsible to the public'. He said the consultation panel would meet openly when discussing organising activities to invite the public to choose from the three shortlisted development plans.