The appointment of a retired government stalwart as Equal Opportunities Commissioner raised a few eyebrows. Former health minister Dr York Chow Yat-ngok did not endear himself initially to those concerned about a conflict of interest by following the government line against a consultation on legal protection for sexual minorities. He has since backtracked and promised to make such legislation a priority. He has also criticised the government for failing to meet the education needs of ethnic minority children in Hong Kong. These are both challenging issues on which his predecessor, Lam Woon-kwong, also a former government official, took a strong stand. If Chow can help resolve them with his experience in government, that will be an answer to critics of the appointment of retired officials to statutory positions.
Much has been said for and against legislation to protect sexual minorities. By comparison, the educational needs of ethnic minority children in Hong Kong have not got the attention they deserve. It is good that Chow has promised to meet different concern groups to work out his plan of action.
Education is key to economic and social integration. Instead of equal access to high-qulity education, such as English-medium schools, non-white ethnic minorities, especially South Asians, have largely attended non-Chinese schools designated for them, where they have not had the help in learning Chinese they need to pass local examinations. After the EOC sided with lobbyists for ethnic minority rights, the Education Bureau said it would work with the commission to offer more support to non-Chinese students. But an EOC report last year that students from these minorities accounted for 3.2 per cent of primary-school pupils, but only 1.1 per cent of senior secondary students and 0.59 per cent of tertiary education students, shows much remains to be done. Truly multicultural societies reap dividends of social and economic diversity that enhance competitiveness. Hong Kong cannot afford such neglect of human potential.