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A Study on the Advisory and Statutory Bodies in Hong Kong - A Brief Report
In a democratic and open society, government would maximize its channels for incorporating brilliant ideas from, and communicating with, various social strata in the processes of policy-making and implementation. This helps ensure an equal distribution of social resources. Apart from the democratic elections through which interested parties and individuals can participate in the legislation council discussions, the government also establishes a variety of advisory bodies under different government departments in order to formulate policies which can best suit the needs of its people. When there are difficulties in the process of policy implementation, the government can also expound the difficulties encountered to such advisory bodies, so that conflicts in due course are more likely to be resolved. In view of these, for the best functioning of these bodies, the government ought to assure a high level of talented persons in society and give an equal opportunity to different social strata to take part in the government's advisory structure. Nepotism should be avoided and the government should use its best endeavors to allow more persons and persons from more different social sectors to participate.
The HKSAR Government largely follows the practices of the colonial past; its dependence on the numerous advisory and statutory bodies (ASBs) has not been reduced after the handover. However, what we should especially take note of is the extent of the openness and how impartial the appointment of committee members is which guarantees an effective operation of the advisory system. Power for Democracy, Office of Emily Lau and the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation have jointly conducted an initial research on the ASBs of Hong Kong in the past half a year. It aims at achieving a more comprehensive picture of the current status of these bodies, the degree of openness, whether persons from different sectors have been appointed to different advisory bodies, and whether when formulating policy the views of a wide spectrum of persons has been obtained. The following aspects have been explored in the research:
The overlap of the membership of the ASBs;
The overlap of the membership between ASBs and 800-person Election Committee;
The members' corresponding career sectors; and
The level of transparency of these ASBs.
The research covers all the ASBs in the Government, but it excludes all district boards, district committees and its affiliated subcommittees and groups. Also, in order to put more focus on the more influential organizations and those with wider scope of authority, part of the analysis will only focus on 103 ASBs which we believe have greater influence on policy fomulation.
In October 2002, we sent a formal request to the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) to obtain relevant information. However, we did not receive a positive reply. In December 2002, we started to collect information from the Internet, and we found 403 ASBs established by the Government, 259 of which are statutory and 144 of which are advisory, with a total number of 4,138 committee members. For the sake of a more thorough scrutiny of the more important committees which have an important influence, we excluded tribunals and those bodies with smaller scope of policy:
Appeal Boards/Board Panels/Panels
Disciplinary Committees/Committee Panels
Tribunals/Tribunal Panels/Board Panels
Registration Boards/Committees/Committees Panels
Smaller Fund Trust Committees/Trust Management Committees/Trust Investment Advisory Committees
Committees and organizations with smaller policy scope
After applying the above principle, 103 organizations are left. A questionnaire was sent out to these 103 organizations and more information has been collected. "System of Advisory Committees in Some Overseas Places" published by the Legislative Council Secretariat in March 2003 also provided our research with indispensable and important reference material. Besides, we have also sent a request to the HAB again for some updated information.
Violation of the "6-Board Rule"
With the object of the efficient functioning of and providing a high number of talented persons from all sectors of society, the government has established a "6-board 6-year rule". That means members should not serve in the same body for more than six years, and they are not supposed to serve simultaneously in more than six bodies. Nonetheless our study discovered that the violation of the rule is common among different government departments.
First, according to our findings, 43 people have been appointed to seven or more ASBs. As the appointment of the ASBs was renewed in 1st April 2003, we again sent a request to the HAB for the updated detailed. In accordance with the information by the HAB, 33 people were appointed in 7 or more ABSs (Appendix 1).
Violation of the "6-Year Rule"
Despite the clear regulatory guideline of the government which clearly states that no one should serve in an ASB for more than six continuous years, the violation of this regulation is great among many ASBs. Amongst the 103 selected organizations, 60 are found to have breached the rule, and 23 of them have more than 20% of their members serving for more than six years. They include The Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation (42.11%), Health Services Research Committee (44.44%), Equal Opportunity Commission (53.33%) and Public Service Commission (55.56%). For further information, please refer to Appendix 2.
Women are Under-represented and the Commercial Sector is Over-represented
Among the 33 people who serve seven or more ASBs, more than a half is from the commercial sector, signifies the over-representation of commercial interests. Moreover, only three of them are women, comprising only 9% of the total. This indicates male have a dominate influence in the advisory system. Details are shown in the following table:
No. of People
Professional (Architectural, Surveying, Engineering, Accountancy, Information Technology, Medical)
Architectural: Ms Kwong Sum Yee Anna Surveying: Mr Wan Chi Keung Aaron, Mr Chan Yuk Ming Raymond Engineering: Dr Lau Chi Wang James, Ir Poon Lok To Otto Accountancy: Dr Wong Lung Tak Patrick, Mr Lui Tim Leung Tim Information Technology: Mr Fan Chor Ho Paul, The Hon Sin Chung Kai , Mr Au Wai Hung Anthony Medical: Dr Lo Chi Keung
Education (Higher Education)
Higher Education: Prof Cheng Kai Ming, Prof Liu Pak Wai, Prof Wong Yue Chim Richard
Economic & Finance (Industry, Commercial, Financial Services, Banking, Textile and Garment, Wholesale and Retail)
Industry: Dr Ng Tat Lun, Dr Sun Tai Lun , Mr Lam Kin Fung Jeffery, Mr Lo Chung Wing Victor, Mr Lee Chung Tak Joseph Commercial: Mr Lee Jark Pui, Mr Yeung Ka Sing, The Hon Chan Bernard Chamwut Financial Services: Mr Chau How Chen, The Hon Mr Wu King Cheong Henry, Mr Fan Chor Ho Paul Banking: Mr Cheng Hoi Chuen Textile and Garment: Mr Ng Sze Fuk George, Mr Chen Cheng Jen Clement, Mr Leung Kwan Yuen Andrew Wholesale and Retail: Mr Pang Yiu Kai, The Hon Mrs Chow Liang Shuk Yee Selina
Legal: Prof Cheng Yeuk Wah Teresa, Mr Chan Bing Woon, Ms Chan Vivien
The above table includes 34 people, but includes Mr Fan Chor Ho Paul who simultaneously belongs to both the Information Technology and Financial Services Sector.
Members of the 800-people Election Committee Dominate the Advisory Structure
Amongst the 33 most appointed people, 17 (51.52%) of them are also members of the Election Committee which elects the Chief Executive. This shows members of the Election Committee are given more weight by the Government. Also, people with a commercial background tend to be more represented in the structure. Details are as follows:
Members who is Simultaneously in the Election Committee
Dr Lau Chi Wang James
Ir Poon Lok To Otto
Mr Au Wai Hung Anthony
Mr Chau How Chen
Mr Chen Cheng Jen Clement
Textile & Garment
Mr Cheng Hoi Chuen
Mr Lee Jark Pui
Mr Lo Chung Wing Victor
Mr Ng Sze Fuk George
Textile & Garment
Mr Pang Yiu Kai
Wholesale & Retail
Mr Wan Chi Keung Aaron
Mr Yeung Ka Sing
Prof Cheng Yeuk Wah Teresa
The Hon Mr Wu King Cheong Henry
The Hon Mrs Chow Liang Shuk Yee Selina
Wholesale & Retail
The Hon Sin Chung Kai
Dr Lo Chi Keung
Dr Sun Tai Lun
Dr Wong Lung Tak Patrick
Mr Chan Yuk Ming Raymond
Mr Lui Tim Leung Tim
Prof Cheng Kai Ming
Prof Wong Yue Chim Richard
Mr Chan Bing Woon
Mr Fan Chor Ho Paul
Financial Services / Information Technology
Ms Kwong Sum Yee Anna
Dr Ng Tat Lun
Mr Lam Kin Fung Jeffery
Mr Lee Chung Tak Joseph
Mr Leung Kwan Yuen Andrew
Textile & Garment
Ms Chan Vivien
Prof Liu Pak Wai
The Hon Chan Bernard Chamwut
A Lack of Monitoring and Transparency
Compared to overseas places and countries, the Hong Kong Government has no clear guidelines for the appointment of ASB members. For example, as pointed out in the report of the Legislative Council Secretariat, both the United Kingdom and Ontario of Canada set out clear appointment principles for the ASBs. "In the UK and Ontario, the appointment principle specifies that the interests of all walks of society should be represented". The UK Government even has an Office of Commissioner for Public Appointments to regulate and monitor the process of membership appointment, so that compliance with the rules and regulations can be assured. However, the report of the Legislative Council Secretariat simultaneously points out, "in Hong Kong, no information is available as to whether there is a mechanism for monitoring the appointment process". Besides, the report also highlights both the UK and New South Wales of Australia make the committee vacancies and details of their corresponding duties known to the public. Nonetheless, in Hong Kong, "there is no information about whether vacancies on advisory committees are advertised in the media. Additionally, there is no information about whether interest groups are approached to refer candidates to fill committee vacancies".
Conclusion and Suggestion
Our initial research findings show that the Government has failed to apply the principle of selection based on merit and failed to adopt an open attitude in regard to the appointment process. This largely leads to an ineffective operation of the advisory committees. The violation the "6-board 6-year rule" is common among different government departments, and the process of appointment lacks transparency and monitoring. In accordance with the above, we have the following suggestions:
Set out detailed guidelines for the ASBs; this includes guidelines for the credible procedure for establishment, membership appointment, removal of members, remuneration, effectiveness assessment, disclosure of information to the public and dissolution of the ASBs.
Disclose the vacancies on committees and their duties to the public. Publicize the procedure of candidate registration so that interested parties from all walks of society can voluntarily register as candidates.
Publicize the lists of candidates, terms of service, their professions as well as their public service. Guidelines should also be set out, requiring the ASBs to disclose information on such as minutes of their meetings and the respective attendance of members on the Internet.
Set up an Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments to regulate and monitor the membership appointment process. The Office should also ensure compliance with the abidance of "6-board 6-year rule" and the principle of selection on merit. This office should be accountable to the Legislative Council, and it should annually submit a review report to the Legislative Council.