Serious concerns over think tank's poll results

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 May, 2011, 12:00am


Opinion polls have become part of our daily life. Often we answer the phone only to find we are being asked to give our views on certain topics by an automated machine or a pollster. The questions may touch on a wide range of subjects, ranging from one's satisfaction with the government's performance to personal habits. Some of the findings are eventually published in the media. Others may be reserved for internal reference or marketing purposes only.

It is therefore not surprising that the Central Policy Unit, the government's policy think tank, is keen to find out how people feel about every step the government may or may not take. The agency is tasked, among other things, to assess public opinion for the government's reference in decision making. But that does not give it any excuse to secretly gauge people's views on issues which may be seen as trivial or inappropriate for a government think tank to study.

It should be explained why the government has finally admitted polling back in March on whether the people want the finance chief to step down in the wake of the HK$6,000 handout fiasco, but refused to disclose the survey findings. A formal request for these results by the South China Morning Post under the Code on Access to Information has also been rejected. The reason the government gave for this refusal was that it wanted to avoid influencing public attitudes. It seems absurd that our officials want to know what people think, but do not want people to know what others are thinking.

Professor Lau Siu-kai, head of the policy unit, has dismissed allegations that his team had ever polled questions such as whether former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang had become 'suddenly pro-democracy'; or whether former Democratic Party leader Martin Lee Chu-ming is a 'traitor'. It would go a long way in dispelling further speculation if all survey findings could be released as far as practicable in future. It is essential for the Central Policy Unit to focus on more meaningful research on long-term policy than becoming a Central Polling Unit.