Chief singled out youth drug abuse 2 years ago
Eva Wu and Celine Sun
Tackling juvenile drug abuse was identified as one of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's concerns in his policy address after his re-election as chief executive two years ago.
Yet, the matter was not given top priority until recently, when reports of drug abuse among young people emerged in June. Mr Tsang said last month that the problem required 'urgent attention and solution'.
In October 2007, Mr Tsang announced in his policy address the formation of a high-level task force to tackle the issue.
'I am deeply concerned about the problem of juvenile drug abuse because young people are the pillars of our future,' the chief executive said then. 'We must tackle this issue with a multipronged approach. Otherwise, our society will definitely pay a high price in the future.'
Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung was appointed to lead an inter-departmental task force to consolidate strategies in a holistic approach. The team reported on youth drug abuse in November and recommended that research be conducted to devise voluntary school-based tests. A trial was expected to be held in the 2010-11 school year, it said.
However, after reports of drug abuse by secondary students surfaced one after another starting in June, Mr Tsang last month said a pilot voluntary scheme would begin in Tai Po secondary schools in the 2009-10 school year.
Critics say the government risks losing support by underestimating the impact of carrying out the tests.
Noting that the chief executive's popularity had not improved in the past months, City University political analyst James Sung Lap-kung said that Mr Tsang might see the fight against youth drug abuse as a tool to regain support.
But Dr Sung warned of opposition to the move. 'The campaign is entirely immature and fails to carefully assess concerns and possible opposition from secondary students ... it underestimates a possible negative response from teenagers,' he said, pointing to a need for thorough planning and consultation.
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun agreed with the government's determination to act promptly, but expressed disappointment that it ignored advice given by Privacy Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun on the legality of the campaign. Parents should be the only ones to get the test results, Mr To said, and follow-up action should be left in their hands.
Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, president of the Institute of Education, said the drug testing was only one of many measures the government planned to adopt.
'This scheme is not or should not be considered as the only way to address the drug problem among youngsters,' he said.
Professor Cheung said it would be better to try the scheme first rather than make assumptions about the problems it might cause. 'You will never know whether it works or not without having a try first.'