Endless talk on issues stymies action in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 1:44am


Consultation is a vital tool for governments wanting to best serve their people's wants and needs. There can be times, though, when an even better way of governing is to make a decision and get what is needed promptly and effectively done. That is a truth Hong Kong authorities have at times been blind to as they try to negotiate our city's political tightrope of long-promised, but still unfulfilled, universal suffrage. Their eagerness to please is too often getting in the way of effective policymaking.

What to do about light pollution and excess energy usage serves as the latest salient example. A government task force has concluded that decorative lighting and advertising signs should be turned off after 11pm or midnight throughout the year. The entertainment and tourism sectors object. So, in keeping with past practice in the face of a lack of consensus, a public consultation process will be held from which may, or may not, come a decision.

An outcome is unlikely for years, if at all. Such has also been the case with what to do about our near-capacity landfills, air pollution, vehicle-choked roads and an unsustainable public hospital system, among much else. Years of discussion, debate, consultants' reports and public engagement processes have not led to policies. The problems have been broached, not resolved.

Light pollution is not a difficult matter to resolve. Like safe air or sustainable waste management, it is a basic community issue. In a city as crowded as Hong Kong, this has to be especially so. Consultation is good to ensure that as many voices as possible can be heard and listened to, but the end result will always be the same: prompt action is essential.

Government inaction does not serve our city well; it stymies development and prevents progress. The decades-long lack of development of the Kai Tak airport and West Kowloon sites proved that only too well. Much-needed decisions were eventually made and now both are proceeding apace - and Hong Kong will one day be the better for it.

Public engagement on the plastic bag levy took a decade, and six years after the first stage was successfully enacted, we are still waiting for the second to begin. We do not want such a time-wasting process with implementation of a promised garbage disposal charge or on curbing annoying lighting. The rounds of consultation on straightforward matters have to end, and the government has to act.