Hong Kong's public consultations are ineffective
I refer to the letter from Garmen Chan Ka-yiu of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority ("West Kowloon hotel was clear about its plans", December 28).
Whether the authority was clear about such plans is debatable. I must take issue, however, with Mr Chan's statement that the "proposed development plan underwent extensive public consultation".
Having managed consultation and community engagement for dam and infrastructure projects in many countries across the globe, I would like to point out that the extent and quality of such "consultation" exercises in Hong Kong over the last 15 years has been risible.
None of the consultations conducted by Hong Kong's public bodies or the civil contractors whom they employ would be acceptable in Namibia or Malawi, let alone advanced economies like Australia or Canada.
For a consultation to be effective, a number of factors must be satisfied. First, engagement must be early, that is, at the inception stage. Input must be obtained on the nature of the problem. Approaching the public for the first time with proposals that have already been put forward, as the arts hub authority has done, is too late.
Second, there should be a range of activities where individuals are able to define the content of the consultation, clarify issues, input hard data and build consensus. Much of the consultation conducted in Hong Kong - such as the single public meeting and phone-in line for the 75,000 Tung Chung residents to give feedback on the development of their town - fail totally, being limited, restrictive and unimaginative.
Third, there needs to be a demonstration that consultation was incorporated into the proponent's decisions and that agreement was reached by consensus. Based on the political backlash against the current Hong Kong government, this has evidently not been done.
The consequence of a consultation that is both ineffective and insincere is development that fails to serve the needs of the majority. Whether the wholly inadequate exercises conducted in Hong Kong to date are due to incompetence, a paucity of skills and knowledge within the government, or, as the Hong Kong public suspects, collusion with big business, is a matter requiring further investigation.
What cannot be denied is that the development of this city has proceeded to serve the interests of the conglomerates, while the rest of society has become increasingly marginalised and disconnected. Is it any wonder there is a social and political crisis?