Staff of the Home Affairs Department and community leaders at the district level are probably rubbing their hands with glee, now that they know Peter Woo Kwong-ching's policy platform for his candidacy for chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. For Mr Woo appears to want to breathe new life into the local consultative machinery by 'expanding the present advisory network through greater reliance upon the respective roles of the Home Affairs Department and the district boards'. He will appoint professionals and leaders in local government to the boards and the Urban and Regional councils. This is good news to those who have a keen interest in public affairs and covet seats on the councils by appointment, but have lost favour with the current administration because they do not want to run for elections. In short, Mr Woo appears to want to go back to the good old days of 'administrative absorption of politics', a term coined by Chinese University Professor Ambrose King Yeo-chi to describe the Hong Kong Government's method of co-opting local elites to sit on advisory boards and councils as a means of tapping their advice and containing their political ambitions. That was before the introduction of elections. In those days, as the 'eyes and ears' of the administration, the Home Affairs Department played a vital role in keeping the Government informed of views at the grassroots level, deciding which local leaders should be honoured and who would get a seat on the councils. The department is now limited to performing the first two roles. Its importance within the Government has been on the decline, because the views of village elders and kai fong association heads whom department officials socialise with no longer carry much clout as they do not have a mandate as elected politicians. The Legislative Council is now fully elected. Unlike their appointed predecessors, legislators have their own mandate and do not feel obliged to listen to the views of district boards and municipal councils. In the New Territories, the department's credibility suffered a serious blow because the region's long-standing custom of barring women from inheriting land was changed by legislation in 1994, despite anger from rural leaders. Mr Woo's plan to revive the local advisory network is, however, not entirely his own thinking. It is also Beijing's plan. China has made clear it will reverse Governor Chris Patten's decision to abolish the remaining appointed seats on the district boards and municipal councils in 1994 and to create nine new functional constituencies in the Legislative Council in 1995. In fact, the local branch of Xinhua (the New China News Agency) has been actively cultivating links with local community leaders who have suffered most in terms of official recognition since the arrival of electoral politics. They fill the ranks of the district affairs advisers appointed by Beijing. Some of them are likely to make it to the selection committee to be formed to choose the chief executive. Mr Woo has even made a point of stating in his platform that he will 'respect the legitimate rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories' which is almost a verbatim reproduction of a clause of the Basic Law. Maybe he is banking on the possibility that rural leaders in the New Territories are likely to form a significant bloc on the selection committee. Mr Woo's idea about setting up a 'political affairs advisory council' also deserves attention. He says he will invite leaders and representatives of different social groups and political parties to sit on the body to contribute their views and advice to the public decision-making process. In practice, it is another way of allowing civic-minded people to have a direct say in public affairs without having to run for political offices. He also plans to set up an 'economic affairs consultative council', comprising people from the small and medium enterprises, professionals and representatives from foreign corporations. Mr Woo gave no details of how these two advisory bodies would operate. Would they be like the Governor's Business Council, set up in 1992, of which Mr Woo has been a member? If they were, then Mr Woo must be aware of criticisms that the operation of Mr Patten's council is far from transparent. Only the members know what it has done. As far as the political affairs advisory council is concerned, would it act as a venue where policy differences among the political parties could be sorted out before they were formally presented to the public or the legislative assembly? The Democratic Party, whose members are unlikely to sit on the provisional legislature, and other parties who control blocs of votes on it, will be interested to know what really is on Mr Woo's mind. Of the five people who have announced their candidacy for the SAR's top job, Mr Woo was the last to have done so. But his performance so far has shown he is the best prepared. He issued a long and carefully-crafted press release on Monday confirming his candidacy, held a presidential style press conference on Tuesday and issued a detailed, 11-page policy platform. He struck the right chord with the public by stating in his televised press conference that Hong Kong people are longing for a sense of freedom and security. He has set a good example to be emulated by other candidates.