Universal Suffrage

Hong Kong should set rules of public engagement

Jieh-Yung Lo calls for rules of engagement to improve public consultation in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 January, 2013, 3:35am

For an observer with a strong interest in the future of Hong Kong's democratic reform, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address was interesting. He presented his vision and aims but the missing link was a commitment to develop opportunities for greater public engagement in policymaking.

While Leung pledged to achieve universal suffrage and explore consultation options on the election methods of the chief executive in 2017 and the Legislative Council in 2016, he didn't set the wheels in motion, and that was a missed opportunity.

I would like to have seen moves towards a community consultation charter that would drive engagement in the years to come.

At a local council in Melbourne, Australia where I am deputy mayor, policy platforms go hand in hand with community consultation. We consult on everything, from the annual budget and the four-year council plan to various social and economic policies.

Residents have a direct say in the council's direction and provide feedback in a variety of ways, from e-mail messages to written submissions and public presentations.

Community and stakeholder engagement is increasingly recognised as a key element in successful public administration and transparent governance, as it results in better outcomes. The Hong Kong government needs to increase consultation opportunities and ensure that the methods of engagement are in line with community expectations.

A consistent and effective approach to engagement can address these expectations. To achieve universal suffrage by 2017, the government has to build community trust through a process that allows them to contribute to policy platforms and agendas.

The government needs to develop a framework to include the context, triggers and principles for community engagement.

An important element will be the assessment of the outcomes of the engagement against the original goals and objectives. This will build on the government's knowledge and provide a useful reference for departments and decision-makers.

At his next policy address, Leung needs to strongly consider introducing such a framework to improve public participation and decision-making, as well as promote a culture of consistent consultation.

This would pave the way for the introduction of universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017.

It doesn't matter how good a policy platform looks on paper, the chances of achieving it will be minimal without community support and backing.

Jieh-Yung Lo is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @jiehyunglo