Advisory panels must play meaningful role

Hundreds of advisory panels have been established in Hong Kong over the years. Some have been nothing more than talk shops or rubber stamps. But ultimately, a panel’s worth can be judged by what it produces

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 1:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 1:28am

With more than 400 statutory and advisory bodies in place, the advisory machinery of the Hong Kong government practically covers almost every aspect of people’s life. Some of the committees, to their credit, do play an important role in helping officials create well thought out policies and legislation. But some are nothing more than talk shops or political vases, operating with little transparency and accountability. There are also concerns that some appointments are indeed political rewards for loyalty and support.

Recently, two industry-related panels under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau have been merged in what appears to be a move to streamline bureaucracy. Comprising heavyweights in the different fields, the expanded Trade and Industry Advisory Board is to explore new business opportunities, including those arising from the central government’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and the Greater Bay Area development plan. Under the leadership of Tung Chee-hwa, two key advisory panels, the Chief Executive’s Council of International Advisers and the Commission on Strategic Development, were established. Over the past two months, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has set up at least two high-level groups, one overseeing land supply and another on financial services.

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Arguably, the appointment of new advisory bodies is nothing wrong. The new government is, after all, entitled to set new priorities and may therefore be in need of fresh ideas from the relevant stakeholders. That is part of the reason why hundreds of advisory panels have been set up over the years. But if previous experience is any reference, some bodies are nothing more than talk shops or rubber stamps. Worse, they sap up administrative resources and aggravate bureaucracy. It would not be surprising if the recent appointments are met with scepticism in some quarters.

Ultimately, the end justifies the means. The government needs to continue streamlining the advisory machinery and prove that the advisers can play a meaningful role in policy formulation.