Vast web of advisory bodies is not working, think tank tells government

SynergyNet urges government to replace network of 185 committees with 'councils of advisers' - and listen more to social activists

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 5:15am

Strained relations between the government and the public could be improved if the administration trims back its "cumbersome" network of 185 advisory bodies, a think tank says.

SynergyNet said advisory bodies could be replaced by "councils of advisers" for particular bureaus, which would be given greater responsibility. Advisers would work closely with ministers and take more responsibility for policy, it added.

SynergyNet also criticised the government for failing to involve enough social activists and members of pressure groups in advisory bodies. A governance study by the think tank found that one-fifth of the 1,900 people serving on advisory bodies had seats on more than one committee - up to six, in one case. More than one-third of the 417 people who served on more than one panel were from the business sector.

Tim Lui Tim-leung, a senior adviser at accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, topped the list with memberships of six bodies, such as the University Grants Committee and the Education Commission. Ten people held five posts.

"The civil society has been active in recent years, but the voices of non-governmental bodies cannot enter the advisory system," said Dr Brian Fong Chi-hang, the think tank's vice-chairman and co-author of the governance study. "This has resulted in major public [discontent] over many government decisions - even though those decisions had gone through advisory teams."

Fong's report cited the 23-strong Antiquities Advisory Board as an example. The board, long criticised for failing to do enough to preserve heritage, is made up largely of academics and professionals, with conservationists not represented.

Citing the Environment Bureau, SynergyNet's research director Dr Ray Yep Kin-man said that instead of its 22 boards and committees, the bureau could form a council of 10 advisers. Only bodies with statutory powers, such as the Advisory Council on the Environment, would remain.

"When the [hierarchy] is so big, participants might not believe they can influence public policy … or that they should defend it when it goes wrong," Yep said. Under the council model "the adviser will work closely with … and analyse policies for the minister. He would feel a responsibility to defend, to evaluate and to lobby for a policy," Yep said.

On governance, the think tank revealed the administration's "legislative success rate" fell to 46 per cent - the lowest level in seven years. Just 11 of the 24 bills mentioned in last year's policy address or in the Legislative Council agenda for the year became law in the Legco session that ended in July. Others were postponed or are being scrutinised in the new Legco session. Fong urged the government to enter a coalition with major parties to help it pass bills.



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