Red tape led to ‘close to zero’ collaboration among Hong Kong bureaus, head of youth policy advisory body says
Chairman recalls biggest setback for his unit but has high hopes for new commission replacing it
The outgoing chief of Hong Kong’s soon-to-be defunct Commission on Youth has hit out at red tape among government agencies, saying there was “close to zero” cross-bureau collaboration on resolving problems facing the city’s youth.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Lau Ming-wai also said it was very important that the government listened to young Hongkongers because many of them felt politicians were not acting in their interests.
“Political parties – whether they are yellow or blue – generally are not recognised by young people as representative of them,” he added, referring to the symbolic colours of the pro-democracy and pro-establishment camps respectively.
“So the idea of these parties being young people’s political agents, from the political science perspective, has broken down.”
But Lau said he had high hopes for the new Youth Development Commission, to be chaired by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, and the quality of applicants vying to join the new body was higher than expected.
“Youth work is very fragmented and to a large extent uncoordinated,” Lau said. “Most youth issues are interdepartmental, [but] those familiar with the government know that [it] is not the best at cross-departmental collaboration or coordination.”
Asked to name one thing he had failed to achieve so far, Lau said it was to “get other bureaus to listen and work together”.
“Cross-bureau collaboration remained close to zero during my term. I cannot recall any time when there was genuine inter-bureau or cross-bureau collaboration, whether for big or small initiatives ... That has been a disappointment.”
The commission he is chairing comprises representatives from the bureaus of education, security, as well as labour and welfare.
“My interaction with [ex officio members of the government] was not deep,” he said.
But he praised the civil servants of the Home Affairs Bureau, which provides a secretariat service to the commission.
The seeds for the new Youth Development Commission were planted when Lau took the idea of a high-level body overseeing youth policies to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. He served as a key aide during her election campaign.
Lam agreed to create a new body to be chaired by her No 2 official. It is expected to begin operations this year.
Lau took part in the selection process for three members to sit on the new commission. He said most of the 500 interviewees were of a higher quality than expected.
“Not every new idea or one from a young person is necessarily valid or the best option for society. But even then, without the correct government attitude, it’s hard for these ideas to flourish,” he said.
Youth policy advisers have noted the new approach taken by Lau, who made greater use of social media to appeal to young people, sometimes with entertaining videos similar to celebrity posts.
“Youth development work is time and labour intensive. There’s no getting around that,” he said, adding that he took part in more than 600 engagement exercises.
“You have to press F5 constantly. And to hear real voices, you often have to go and seek them,” Lau said, referring to the computer key with the browser refresh function.