NGOs fear red tape will hit Sichuan work A major post-earthquake relief operation in Sichuan involving hundreds of Hong Kong and mainland students has been abruptly put on hold. The move follows the creation of a mechanism by the chief executive designed to co-ordinate the city's relief initiatives. The decision has triggered concern among non-governmental organisations, with observers saying they fear red tape and political considerations will hinder the speed and quality of humanitarian relief and rebuilding efforts. Under the plan agreed last month between the Sichuan provincial poverty alleviation office and the Hong Kong Christian Council, up to 700 university students from the mainland and Hong Kong would have left for Sichuan villages, visiting survivors and conducting surveys in the middle of this month. The information collected was to contribute to the central government's rebuilding plans. But last Friday, the day Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen visited Sichuan and met Vice-President Xi Jinping , the council was told the operation could not continue without the Hong Kong government's approval. Mr Tsang announced during the visit the creation of a 'co-ordination mechanism' led by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen and a vice-governor of Sichuan, which would be a government-led initiative to invite public participation. The Reverend Ralph Lee Ting-sun, honorary general secretary of the council, said the Sichuan poverty alleviation office cited 'the latest agreement' with the Hong Kong government when saying NGOs wishing to take part in relief efforts must be approved and co-ordinated by the special administrative region government. 'It has totally disrupted our plan because on top of promising to work in Sichuan, students from Hong Kong have also raised funds to support their travel costs,' he said. Although pledging to support longer-term projects, the council has dropped plans to send students from Hong Kong to Sichuan after contacting the government. Mainland students will continue their work. A government source said Mr Tang's group had yet to finalise a full operational plan, which would hinge on whether the Legislative Council approved a funding application. 'We don't want NGOs to duplicate their work. It will only add to the troubles for mainland authorities if every NGO knocks on a separate door. Relief efforts can improve with our co-ordination,' the source said. Although NGOs such as the Red Cross, Oxfam and Caritas said their projects in Sichuan had not been affected, sources in the sector were concerned about the government's next step. Civic Party vice-chairman Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung will raise the issue with the authorities in Sichuan as part of the delegation from the legislature leaving for the area tonight.