Once a year a clutch of the world's most influential businessmen fly into Hong Kong for a meeting. The taxpayer foots the bill for swanky suites and first-class airfares. In return our administration gets the benefit of free advice from some of the canniest commercial brains on the planet. A good deal, you might think. Well, I think so too. But no matter how hard I try, it's impossible to discover a solitary achievement or initiative that has emerged from the seven meetings held since 1999 of the Chief Executive's Council of International Advisers. This body was set up with some fanfare after Tung Chee-hwa announced it in his 1998 policy address. It was loosely similar to an organisation that former prime minister Zhu Rongji established in Shanghai when he was mayor. The Shanghai model sees a busy secretariat posing specific questions to members of their advisory board. They put detailed questions on challenges (it may be urban renewal or city transport) and when the members return to Shanghai the following year, they have bulky reports put together by experts. Our version seems a lot less structured. Like many people, I am totally in the dark about what good this advisory body does for Hong Kong. I've got no objection to the chief executive organising meetings with top global businessmen to pick their brains, but there seems little real benefit. What's it achieved? Isn't it all a bit nebulous and superficial? According to the government, the council 'advises the chief executive from an international perspective on strategic issues pertinent to the long-term development of Hong Kong'. The members are meant to give advice on global and regional economic trends and to tell how big business worldwide perceives Hong Kong and its policies. The council is not expected to give detailed recommendations on specific initiatives. So, what does it tell the government? And how exactly has this helped us? I put these questions to the government. The answer was a rambling and barely decipherable 129-word sentence. It seems the advisers in the past have said we need to 'build on existing strengths in the sectors in which we have a comparative advantage such as finance and tourism'. They've told Mr Tung to expand technology and innovation; did the Cyberport spring from this? In which case, thanks a lot. They urged him to uphold a free and level playing field for both local and overseas investors, to develop excellence in education and attract outside expertise and to upgrade the environment and living conditions. They recommended intense publicity efforts in major overseas markets. Oh, they had a lot of advice to give us, all of it very obvious. The government spokesman said these views were considered when making policy. Eh? This is the prime advice we get from some of the world's top businessmen? Any MBA student could have told us that. So could the average street hawker. It doesn't seem to me blindingly brilliant to strive to improve the environment, to encourage innovation, to boost education and tell the world of our attractions. Come to think of it, I could have told Mr Tung all these things if he had asked and if he cared to listen. So could anyone else with a bit of common sense. So, I ask again, what do we gain by having a group of global executives coming here two days a year to tell us what to do? Well, there are other benefits. The key men (there's not a woman on the council) get an inside look at what the administration is trying to achieve. Then they hopefully act as unofficial ambassadors at world forums. Attendance is patchy. In 2000, only eight of the 12 members turned up. One of the absentees was Rupert Murdoch, the head of News Corp. He was appointed in 1998, went to the 1999 meeting, never went to another and resigned from the council in 2004. The members are men of substance and stature; Americans, Europeans, Japanese, bankers, industrialists, manufacturers. Some control companies (Toyota, Shell Oil, Siemens) that have budgets bigger than many nations. But what, I ask again, is the point? In 2001, Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun doubted publicly if it could offer concrete ideas. I agreed with him then. I feel the same way now. Does Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen intend to keep the council going? I asked his official spokesman. Nobody could tell me when the next meeting will take place. Maybe they are waiting for advice.