Friends of the Earth looks inwards as strife among members deepens

Friends of the Earth chairman vows a review of its constitution in the wake of internal criticism over how the governors are elected

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 June, 2013, 4:18am

The governors of one of the city's major green groups have pledged to review its constitution after its election came under fire from even the most loyal members.

Robert Young Man-kin, outgoing chairman of Friends of the Earth, sought to ease the internal strife yesterday after the board admitted two new governors in what members described as a hastily conducted annual general meeting on Thursday night.

Distrust has been brewing between the board of governors on one side, and the staff and members on the other. Chief executive Chan May-ling quit abruptly on May 31 amid allegations that the board was meddling too much in the daily running of the group.

At the meeting, members fired questions at the board over the selection criteria for governors and the transparency of the vetting mechanism.

They raised questions over why a certain governor, who was not named, could serve for more than 30 years.

The board also fielded queries on life and general members' different rights to vote and to be elected, and on the ballot format.

The poll was held openly - everyone could see who voted for whom as governors and life members waved their flags to show support for particular candidates. And before they got to cast their votes, the chairman announced the board's preferred candidates, whom it had vetted in advance.

Ella To Kwong Wai-yin, a past governor, said: "Since when has the election become like this? I have never seen anything like this elsewhere. I am horrified."

Under the group's constitution, only life members, who paid a one-off fee of HK$5,000, are eligible to vote, but it does not preclude non-members from running for board membership.

Governor hopefuls must be nominated and seconded by a life member. The group has more than 100 life members and more than 10,000 general members.

The two newly elected governors were public relations specialist Jasminia Cheung and Oxfam's China programme director Howard Liu Hung-to.

The pair succeeded with the support of the board, which held proxy votes in addition to their own.

The defeated candidates, environmental engineer Leung Wai On and social entrepreneur Jimmy Chiu Lap-kee, did not have the board's blessings because they had not been active in events. Liu acquired life membership just a day before the poll, and Cheung a few months ago.

Young said the board considered many factors before recommending any candidates.

He also defended the open ballot, saying it had abided by the constitution.

On why a governor could be re-elected time and again for 30 years, he said: "These people represent a collective memory; they know what has taken place in the life of Friends of the Earth."

He said the review would examine whether to set term limits for governors, nomination procedures, and voting methods.

One of the people at the meeting, Mr Justice Henry Litton, said after the meeting that members used to be on an equal footing with one another and shared the same personal liability.

"We made no distinction in those days [between life and general members]. All members were equal," said Litton, who is a non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal.

He used to be the group's patron and whose wife, Linda Siddall, was the founding director.