Quietly, with no fanfare, the chief executive has cancelled this year's meeting of his Council of International Advisers (CECIA). The global wise men were due to gather next month. The only reason given for shelving the meeting was that Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was too busy. Well, that's true, of course. And with the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting looming, we're surely going to be playing host to more than our share of leading business figures. I can't help feeling that scrapping the next council meeting is the first step in getting rid of an idea that never quite worked. The Council of International Advisers was announced with some satisfaction by Tung Chee-hwa in his 1998 policy address. It was based, obviously, on a similar policy-advice panel that former premier Zhu Rongji established a decade earlier when he was mayor of Shanghai. The Shanghai model was tautly run. Problems were raised one year - town planning, energy policy - and bulky reports were tabled at the next annual meeting. The Hong Kong version seemed far more casual, chatty and less focused on getting results. It was a good idea but never really fired on all cylinders. And nobody was ever sure what the council was meant to do. Does Hong Kong, a city of entrepreneurs and managers, need a group of overseas businessmen to come here for a few days every year and give us the benefit of their advice? That can't hurt, of course, but it's extremely difficult to point to any concrete suggestion ever made by the body. Civic Exchange chairwoman Christine Loh Kung-wai contends that consulting overseas experts is not a bad idea. She adds, however, that Mr Tung merely invited a limited range of businesspeople. 'Since we have never had a proper report of what was discussed, it's hard to say how Hong Kong benefited,' she notes. If she were putting together such a body, she would expand it to embrace individuals with genuine expertise in specific long-term issues, such as energy, environment, health care, technology and education. 'This would allow Hong Kong to play host to great minds of the world,' she explains. 'The programme would include public talks and workshops.' As usual, Ms Loh is right. In my view, a major failure of the council was that it met behind closed doors, held discussions in secret and issued vague summaries. Nobody knew what it did. Certainly there was no concept of what it achieved. Luk Yim-fai, director of the School of Economics and Finance at the University of Hong Kong, is among the many people who don't think such talk-fests are very useful. 'It functions more like a show,' he maintains. 'I can't see the economic effectiveness. The delegates are high-profile personalities and are very busy. It's difficult for them to give comments or recommendations if their businesses do not touch Hong Kong.' The current membership contains businesspeople who wield enormous clout. But apart from HSBC group chairman Sir John Bond, they don't seem to have obvious direct links with Hong Kong. There are the corporate barons of such giants as Intel, Motorola, Philips, DaimlerChrysler, AOL Time Warner, Goldman Sachs and Toyota. Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is a rare member who attended most annual meetings; he would of course have been a mighty powerhouse. But what did he contribute? Nobody knows. One trouble over recent years was that the annual gatherings seemed so pointless that fewer and fewer members attended. Media goliath Rupert Murdoch was a member for six years but only managed to attend one meeting. I'm told the final decision to cancel this year's meeting came when it was obvious a mere handful of the advisers would be present; to hold the council in those circumstances would have been embarrassing for both the government and the invitees. I wouldn't be surprised if Donald Tsang lays this corpse to rest or resurrects it in a new guise. How about something like the Hong Kong Forum, where acknowledged world experts are invited annually to present their opinions on specific problems? The 2006 subject could be the challenge of living with pollution. The forum should be held publicly and covered by media, a frank discussion laying out to the people the challenge we face and what steps - no matter how draconian - must be taken to overcome it. That way, a body to advise the chief executive may achieve something.