Rural community leaders whose positions give them the right to sit on district councils appear less often at council meetings than their elected and appointed counterparts, the latest attendance figures show. Although the right held by the chairmen of the 27 New Territories rural committees to be ex officio members of the councils has been criticised as unfair, the government is not proposing to abolish it as part of looming political reforms. Attendance rates at full council meetings are generally high across the three types of members and across districts, but notable differences appear in participation records for committee meetings. The chairmen of rural committees had an average attendance rate of 91 per cent in full council meetings, compared with 97 per cent by elected councillors and 95 per cent by appointed members. But ex officio councillors were present at just 73 per cent of meetings of committees they had joined, while elected members attended 89 per cent and appointed colleagues 85 per cent. The figures come from records provided by the secretariats of the 18 district councils. Details for four districts - Central and Western, Tai Po, Yuen Long and Islands - cover the whole of 2009, while those for the other districts cover January to September. One ex officio member, Hau Chi-keung, vice-chairman of North District Council, did not show up to any committee meetings in the first nine months of the year. He is a member of the council's district facilities management committee, and its district minor works and environmental improvement committee. Both of the committees met five times between January and September. Another seven ex officio members attended less than half of the meetings, while only four of the 27 attended all meetings, compared with 31 per cent and 28 per cent for the elected and appointed members. Hau, who is also the Sheung Shui Rural Committee chairman, could not be reached for comment. He was among three district council members in Hong Kong who had a zero attendance record on council committees, according to the latest figures. Another councillor, Tso Hon-kwong who was elected to Eastern District Council, was absent because he has been undergoing cancer treatment. Appointed Tuen Mun district councillor Steve Lo Wong-fung, who also failed to attend any committee meetings, could not be reached for comment. Lau Wong-fat, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk, which looks after the interests of indigenous New Territories residents, said rural leaders had a higher absence rate on district councils because they were busy. 'Ex officio councillors have many things to do,' said Lau, who is also an ex officio district councillor of Tuen Mun District Council, and its chairman. 'Very often the district council meetings have time clashes with rural committee meetings, and you can't ask the whole council to change the meeting time just for you. They are also busy with helping solve problems and settling disputes in rural villages.' Legislator and elected Sham Shui Po district councillor Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the pan-democrat Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, said he regarded the average attendance rates of all three types of councillors as satisfactory, but said the appointed and ex officio seats should be abolished as part of wider political reforms. 'The system gives them privileges,' he said. 'Instead of giving rural committee leaders the seats automatically, the government should treat rural villages in the same way as other district council constituencies, where residents directly elect their councillors.' There are 534 district councillors in the city. While 405 members were directly elected by residents in their respective constituencies, there are 102 appointed by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, as well as the 27 ex officio members from rural committees. The councils were set up in 1982 to represent the people at the community level. They do not have real power except the authority to build certain small works and organise some district activities. However, the government consults them on many government polices. The councils meet every three months, while their subcommittees meet on a monthly basis. After being elected from 1,480 village representatives to head their respective regions, the rural committee chairmen automatically become Heung Yee Kuk councillors, ex officio district councillors, Legislative Council functional constituency members and Election Committee sub-sector voters. Elected and appointed district councillors also enjoy the latter two voting rights, but the government has proposed in its latest constitutional reform paper to strip these two rights from appointed councillors.