Councillors in one of the city's most ethnically diverse districts have been accused of short-changing many of their constituents by refusing to offer information in English or use the language in meetings.
Chan Wai-keung, an independent, submitted a motion to the Yau Tsim Mong district council last week arguing that thousands of South Asians and Western residents are being excluded from decision-making because only a one-page, English-language summary of meeting papers and minutes is placed on the council website, with full papers only available in Chinese.
He says most other councils are not much better.
According to last year's census, more than 12 per cent of the population in the district is not of Chinese ethnicity, with almost 7,000 Nepalis and more than 5,000 Indians living there. Just 6.4 per cent of residents citywide are non-Chinese.
'The secretariats of district councils headed by the Home Affairs Department have taken the lead in linguistic discrimination against non-Chinese members of the public,' Chan said. 'Logging on to the English version of the homepage, I, as a district councillor, was taken aback by the paucity of English translation of our meeting documents.'
Chan says the quantity of English-language material across district councils varies. Apparently, only the Southern District Council translates all documents into English - possibly because one of its members, Dutch-born Paul Zimmerman, is not Chinese.
Most district councils in Kowloon and the New Territories do not provide English versions of the key papers, Chan says, leaving members of ethnic minorities in the dark about discussions and decisions affecting them. He says motions can be put forward and recorded in either language, but Chinese is always used.
'Council members do not care about submitting papers or delivering speeches in English, even though some of the regional issues in the meetings are related to the welfare of non-Chinese communities,' he said.
Chan delivered his motion in English and asked that all responses be made in English for a change. But the majority of councillors preferred to answer in Cantonese.
An angry Chan retorted that it was 'this kind of mentality that created all the problems'.
The Sunday Morning Post contacted the Home Affairs Bureau for a reply on Thursday, but has not yet received a response.
Councillors at the Yau Tsim Mong district council meeting were generally supportive of the English-translation idea, but pointed out that some district councils did not have the resources to do so.
Mary Melville, a member of the Tsim Sha Tsui Residents Concern Group, also attended the meeting and said it was expected that these talks would be in Cantonese.
But she said that this time, councillors failed to address the real issue. 'It's not just about clarifying to ethnic minorities what decisions are being made ... But the more we encourage people to be bilingual, the more it helps educate everyone.'