Lack of public voice criticised

ANGRY legislators yesterday criticised the Government for excluding public opinion from the draft review of environmental policy to be published in November.

The paper is the second review of the progress of the environmental protection programme laid down in a 1989 White Paper and forms the basis for future action.

Legislators in the environmental affairs panel, who received only a 17-page summary of the draft, were angered when the Government said the paper needed to be endorsed by the Executive Council before it was opened to public debate.

Independent legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai said Exco members were only part-time advisers to the Government and would have to take its word on technical topics.

''How on earth could Exco members comment on the paper if there is no consultation to give them a direction as to what the public opinions are?'' Ms Loh asked.

United Democrat member the Reverend Fung Chi-wood asked whether the Government had any intention of consulting the public, especially green pressure groups.

The Deputy Secretary for Environment, Anthony Cooper, said: ''Public consultation is one of our main aims, but we have to clear certain administrative hurdles before that begins.'' He said the review was neither a Green nor White Paper but a public education document aimed at stimulating concern and debate on environmental issues.

A review paper on the 1989 White Paper is to be published every two years.

Mr Cooper gave an assurance that there would be extensive consultation once the paper was published.

''Opening the draft for public debate at this stage would mean we could never get it published,'' Mr Cooper said.

Legislators were also dissatisfied that the paper touched only slightly on some key environmental issues.

Independent legislator Samuel Wong Ping-wai was concerned about water conservation, which received only a passing mention.

The Government yesterday also briefed members on a proposed scheme under which chemical waste producers would be charged to recover the cost of treating waste.

The scheme is set to recover $2.49 billion from 1994 to 2007 - 43 per cent of the total capital or recurrent costs.

Initial charges would be set at 20 per cent of variable operating cost (VOC) for each waste stream and there would be a gradual increase to achieve full VOC after 10 years.

It was estimated that the production costs for the firms involved would rise by one to six per cent.