District councils must earn the respect of their citizens

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 12:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2015, 9:12am

Politicians think they know best when it comes to spending taxpayers' money. They demand that funding proposals put forward by the government be well thought out, practical and value for money.

But when it comes to their turn to spend money for a good cause, they fail to adhere to such principles.

A recent article in this newspaper has put the issue under the spotlight.

Each of the 18 district councils has been given HK$100 million to implement one or two signature projects of their own under a chief executive's initiative in January 2013.

What is supposed to be a good way for political point-scoring turns out to be a publicity disaster.

From project ideas to feasibility tests, our elected representatives have been criticised for a lack of variety and know-how to turn concepts into reality.

Addressing public needs and spending wisely have proved to be too much of a challenge for them.

The government hopes that the councils can start or even finish the projects before the current term ends this year. But indecision and bureaucracy mean fewer than 10 projects have secured funding from the Legislative Council.

Some proposals, such as building dining facilities at the seafood market in Aberdeen, are worthy of support. But others have been less well received by the public.

For instance, a world-class music fountain is to be built in Kwun Tong at a cost of more than HK$50 million.

The Kwai Tsing district council also came under fire for spending more than HK$600,000 on publicity, including allegedly paying social media users to "like" its Facebook page. It remains unclear whether funding for other proposals can be approved in the second half of the year.

With a new four-year term starting in January, it will not be surprising if individual new councils want to ditch the original projects.

That the district councillors have little idea how to spend money for the people is unsurprising.

Although the lower-tier structure has the longest history of elective politics, it remains an advisory body with little policy-making and spending powers.

Members are more familiar with the construction of footbridges, bus route realignment or drainage work in the neighbourhoods. That explains why they do not always win the trust and respect elected representatives deserve.

If the funding scheme is the test of the councils' ability to take on higher responsibility, the outcome does not instil much public confidence.

Our councillors have to do better to improve their image and performance.