Public consultation process for incinerator proposal is just a charade

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am


On November 25, I attended an eye-opening meeting organised by the Environmental Protection Department for people who object to the proposed construction of 'integrated waste management facilities' at Shek Kwu Chau.

The two-hour session confirmed portrayals of the government's 'public consultations' as a sham. This one was not only phoney, it was a farce.

First, a meeting about a subject important to all of Hong Kong (a super-incinerator costing billions to be built in a pristine natural environment) should be held in a large, easily accessible place, on a weekend, to maximise attendance. Instead, it was held in the remote village of Pui O, on Lantau, at an uncomfortable venue (a classroom with tiny, hard chairs), during 'happy hour' (6-8pm, Friday) when perhaps officials hoped vocal expats would be otherwise occupied. No translation into Cantonese was provided until an audience member called for it. No notes were taken of the views expressed until audience members raised the issue, then several department officials started scribbling.

Second, the aims of the meeting, as stated in a department handout, were 'to clarify any misunderstanding' with objectors and 'to ascertain whether the objector is willing to withdraw the objection', not to hear him/her out. To the department, 'consulting' objectors means convincing them to stop objecting.

Third, although the proposal is still in the consultation phase, with its environmental impact assessment and funding yet to be approved, and serious public opposition to it, officials treated it as a fait accompli. Their attitude was far from consultative. They launched into a PowerPoint presentation on the engineering technicalities of how the incinerator will be built, not about why Shek Kwu Chau was chosen based on a trade-off analysis of other options covering, for example, cost comparison and environmental impact. They diverged from their script only after persistent protests. When no other options are on the table, it is not consultation, but promotion of a project already decided.

Fourth, after repeated demands for cost estimates, an official said the figures would be disclosed only when funding is sought from Legco, by which time the project will have advanced to an unstoppable stage. Why hold a public consultation when this crucial factor - the exorbitant cost to taxpayers - cannot even be discussed? Clearly the 'public consultations' are a charade to satisfy a procedural requirement.

Kim Chai, Lantau