Hong Kong property

District councillors forced to open remote constituency offices

Some district councillors find renting offices in their constituencies tough because of costs and other reasons, leaving voters with far to go

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 4:46am

More than a year after being elected as a district councillor, Joseph Chan Ho-lim is still struggling to find an office in his Peak constituency. For now, he is making do with a 400 sq ft office a half-hour journey away, which costs more than half his HK$22,000 monthly expenses allowance.

That's nothing compared to the distance constituents of Southern district's Fergus Fung Se-goun and Islands district's Amy Yung Wing-sheung have to travel to see their councillors, whose offices are in Central.

While Tai Po councillor Ray Au Chun-wah may appear to have less of a problem, with his office a 10-minute walk away, he says that's too far for some voters.

Joseph Chan says the government should find councillors office space in government properties, and give people like him a higher monthly allowance by taking into account rental costs in different districts.

Au says the government should designate offices for each of the city's 400-plus councillors.

Chan, of the Liberal Party, won his seat on The Peak in November last year, yet a combination of high rents and landlords' unwillingness to rent an office to him - because land leases restrict them to commercial tenants - had made it impossible for him to find a base there.

"If I were to rent a small shop in my constituency, it could cost tens of thousand of dollars," Chan said.

Instead, he has had to settle for a 400 sq ft office on the eighth floor of a building in Pottinger Street, Central, which costs him HK$11,500 a month in rent. "It's not ideal, because it takes more than 30 minutes for a Peak resident to get to my office," he said.

"It made it impossible for me to promote myself with a local presence. The only ways are through e-mails, or making phone calls to follow up on cases. I am worried that some residents of The Peak simply won't be able to find me if they are in need."

In Tai Po, Au, of the Democratic Party, represents Tai Po Central, where his constituents include about 14,200 people on the private Tai Po Centre estate.

"It is very expensive to rent a shop there. For example, a 100 sq ft space may cost HK$7,000 to HK$9,000 per month," Au said.

He rents a 380 sq ft office on the Tai Yuen public housing estate for HK$6,660 per month.

Poorer people might be reluctant to seek help if they need to walk 10 minutes to his office, he says.

At least Au and Chan's offices are in the same districts as their constituencies. That's more than you can say for Fung, a Liberal, in Southern district and Yung, of the Civic Party, in Islands district.

Yung represents Discovery Bay, where she also lives. She says the developer, HKR International, offered to rent her an office when she was first elected in 2000, "but it was small and had no windows, and the rent for a better one was too high".

"Sometimes my voters come and find me. I still work quite often in Discovery Bay, holding meetings in its community hall, for instance," she said.

All four, though, are better off than Roy Chan Sze-ching, the Yuen Long district councillor representing Tin Shui Wai. According to the district council's homepage, he is the only councillor without an office. Chan says he was turned down for "commercial reasons" when he sought to rent space in shopping malls.

For some, location isn't everything. Fung's Southern district colleague, Paul Zimmerman, rents an office in Quarry Bay. He says it doesn't affect his work because he keeps in touch with voters through e-mails and visits.