One unforeseen consequence of the recent run of food scares is the effect that it may have on the running of the SAR. The evident need for better procedures, particularly over bird flu and the recent red tide, has given the Government the perfect excuse to cut back the powers of the regional and urban councils in whose hands food and environmental hygiene is presently placed. There is little doubt that the Government would have considerable public support in its proposal to centralise these services. This will particularly be the case if the new Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare instigates a comprehensive food control system which enables contaminated foodstuffs to be identified at source. Something has to be done to minimise the food problems which are becoming regular events. Placing the clear and sole responsibility in the hands of a special department is probably the most efficient way to do it. That leaves the two councils with fewer duties of consequence. But the truth is that their fate has been in the balance ever since the autumn policy address when the Chief Executive announced plans to re-examine the role of the regional organisations. They are to some extent an anachronism, created by the British administration as a means of giving the grassroots a voice in an executive-led government. Few tears would be shed now if the second tier councils were to go. But, with the slow pace of democratic development laid out for Hong Kong, any review must concentrate on retaining the positive aspects of the present system. In particular, they serve as a channel for political participation in decision-making which is valuable and should be preserved. There can be few objections to introducing a more streamlined service, but it should not further roll back democracy in the SAR. With a legislature in which most members will represent functional constituencies or be the choice of the Election Committee, it would be a retrograde step - and one likely to be strongly resented by the electorate - if future arrangements eroded the power of popular opinion people on the lower tiers of government.