The operation of the new district councils is anything but smooth, with the pan-democrats grilling the government over the handling of protests and officials walking out of meetings. Concerns have been raised as to whether the opposition-led councils have gone beyond their functions under the law to pursue security and political matters. Also being called into question is whether officials who shunned the meetings have failed to maintain political neutrality. The issues need to be clarified so councils can function effectively. Cooperation did not get off to a good start when most members boycotted a meeting with Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung early last month. Ousted Hong Kong incumbents cite smears, bogus claims in bid to overturn poll Tensions rose further when some councils set up task forces or committees focusing on police handling of protests and other political issues. The moves were seen by the government as inconsistent with the councils’ statutory roles and functions. Earlier, a district officer walked out when members moved a motion condemning police brutality, a notion rejected by the government. Cheung said officials would not attend or provide secretarial services to meetings with no legal basis. The lower-tier structure used to focus on livelihood matters under the control of Beijing loyalists. But the opposition has a different agenda, having been elected on a platform critical of the police handling of protests and the slow pace of democratisation. Members said holding police accountable for what they see as brutality was in line with the District Council Ordinance, referring to the provision that says the councils can also advise the government on “matters affecting the well-being of the people in the district”. Defeated council candidate says men threatened voters and poll staff They also took issue with officers opposing their initiatives, saying civil servants were supposed to serve the councils impartially. But the government argued that neutrality means loyalty to the chief executive. The disputes stem from the new political order and must be resolved so that the councils can work effectively. Their remit must be clarified with legal advice, and perhaps through legal challenge if needed. Officials also need to explain the role and responsibilities of civil servants and work with the opposition, so far as the law allows.