• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 12:41pm
PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 2:20am

Keep public consultation serious and transparent

Peter Kammerer says public consultation needs to be more transparent, and reserved for only the most important community issues


Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  

Those of us who pay taxes, vote and obey laws should have already fulfilled our civic duties. Not so, says the government. We also need to participate in public consultations: lots of them. With the recent closing of one on intangible cultural heritage, there are 10 to make views known on.

Participation is not compulsory in our society of part-democracy. Nor would many of us have an interest in much of what gets put forward. Elsewhere, they would be capably handled by lawmakers and civil servants. But Hong Kong is awash with public funds and governed by people unwilling to make the decisions they are paid so handsomely to carry out.

I long believed authorities thought the consultations were necessary to compensate for the lack of full universal suffrage. But when the narrowly focused topics of some of the consultations are considered, this can hardly be the reason. One at the moment, for renewal of PCCW's domestic pay television programme service licence, can be of interest only to subscribers and other TV providers. Deepening the mystery is why the substantially more important matter of which companies should be awarded free-to-air TV licences was left entirely in the hands of the Executive Council.

Questions about whether viewers are satisfied with the programming of TVB and ATV would have not only been informative for authorities, but also made for entertaining reading. I am not so sure that this is what will be obtained from responses to the current opinion-gathering exercises on the "2014 Digital 21 Strategy", the findings of the task force on external lighting, a monorail network for Kowloon East or review of the patent system.

This is not to belittle the public consultation process. The majority of the issues presently open for views are important to Hong Kong and the community. We are also being asked for opinions on a harbourfront authority, population policy, municipal solid waste charging, a long-term housing strategy and testing of people suspected of taking drugs and their referral for treatment. They are all arguably matters worthy of opinion-taking before being considered by policymakers and legislators.

Where it all falls down, though, is that the process lacks transparency. Rarely are we given a detailed breakdown of the responses and how many and who participated. Sometimes, decisions we should have been consulted on are made without public input.

Public consultation could be a worthwhile practice even were we to have universal suffrage - but it should not by any means be a necessity. Rather, it should be reserved for the most important community matters. With lawmakers earning HK$80,000 a month plus expenses and government ministers and civil servants among the highest paid in the world, we should be making people in public office earn what we pay them to do.

If they are unable to deliver, we can let them know what we think of them through the media and other channels of objection; when we get to elect them, they can be thrown out of office. Stumping up even more than we already do through holding unnecessary consultations wastes valuable time and resources.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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This article is now closed to comments

Hong Kong government consultation is the biggest sham on earth. It is a black hole in our universe – nothing will come out from it in favor of Hong Kong community at large. Without being a sham they couldn’t be as powerful as a black hole in our universe.
I have had in numerous time ‘whistling’ on this subject too. But I will be less polite this time. More honest to my feeling which unfortunately more truly to the reality.
Let me say Hong Kong is governed by the conglomerates which Government is just a well oiled machine to carry out their needs and wants. The system is so well run that not even a meeting needs to take place. It is a win-win system for the conglomerates and government. It is a culture of collusion in silence – act first and reward later even in assuring a good government retirement package (the colonial officials).
Where do you think the profits coming from for the conglomerates? Where do you think government’s surplus has been coming from? Yes, all from the dummies they like us to believe what we are.
Oh dear. Did someone forget to inform Mr Kammerer? 'Public Consultation' is merely code for 'allowing the various vested interest groups to subtly or not-so-subtly spell out what would be and what would definitely not be acceptable for them.'

And yes, that very much means the functional constituencies. The DAB alliance can push funding for anything they want through LegCo as long as the functional constituencies are on board. And as long as the government doesn't step on any of their toes, ensures their perks are safe and their cushy jobs high and dry, they will.

What the real public, in terms of the people in the street or even 'just' those affected by the proposed monorail/waste policy/whatever-topic-du-jour thinks, is irrelevant. That will get buried in the appendix of the resulting report. If there is a report at all indeed.

Welcome to the Hong Kong SBR.
The results of consultations are always manipulated by government officials, even a junior administrative officer knows how to do it, because individual responses from the public are never revealed.
Public consultation is a charade the government goes through to con the public it is taking their views into account. It is a purely cosmetic exercise before the decision, already arrived at before the consultation, is announced in favour of vested interests.
Indeed, "public consultations" are mostly a sham since the questions posed are typically limited and structured to favor government proposals. Moreover, public consultations are so poorly advertised that a minute percentage of the population are actually aware of them.
Was there a "no, do not implement", in the public consultation for national education or article 23?
Was there a public consultation on the number of TV licenses to issue?


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