Bilingual council websites feasible

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 3:37am

In his policy address last month, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced a "one-off grant" of HK$100 million for each district in Hong Kong, or HK$1.8 billion in total for all districts, to be earmarked for district councils this year to "carry out signature projects in the current term".

With significant additional resources, these councils can no longer use the excuse that they do not have enough money to provide bilingual content on their websites.

Making such a provision would require just one additional staff member for each secretariat. Currently, of the 18 councils only two, Southern and Wong Tai Sin, provide access to council affairs in English.

This is despite that fact that while 95 per cent of the population is of Chinese descent, a lower proportion can read and write in that language.

The percentage of residents speaking English and other non-Chinese languages in some districts is more than 20 per cent.

Many residents who cannot read Chinese are significant taxpayers, and in view of the large amount of cash to be put at the disposal of their local council, they have every right to have access to information on how that money is to be spent.

In August, the Tsim Sha Tsui Residents' Concern Group presented a breakdown of residents' profiles in each district to the financial secretary. We chose his office because we were told lack of English on websites was due to budgetary constraints.

We also provided a comparison between the paucity of the information provided in English on the district council websites compared to the content available in Chinese.

We asked that our right to access to information through the English-language medium under the Official Languages Ordinance be respected. The response was that the Home Affairs Department would contact the group, but we have not heard from it.

Not only are we concerned about denial of access to information, we have also questioned why the councils do not publish a breakdown of annual expenditure. With HK$1.8 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars now at their disposal, this situation is no longer acceptable.

Before this money is made available, strict requirements regarding transparency and fiscal probity must be introduced. There must also be provision for genuine consultation with local residents before any project goes ahead.

We look forward to a positive response from the financial secretary's office, through these columns.

Paul Kumar, member, Tsim Sha Tsui Residents' Concern Group