Opinion outside Legco
Ms Christine Loh, former legislator, was the
Foundation's guest speaker on 12 July 2000. This is a
summary of her remarks.
Although she was retiring from LegCo, Ms Loh said she
was not retiring from politics. Ms Loh described the
executive branch and LegCo as formal big "P"
politics. There was also politics with a small
"p", which comprised the media, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) and the general public. After nearly
9 years in big "P" politics, she was simply
crossing the road to the side of the small "p".
However, Ms Loh's ambitions were undiminshed. She believed
that a new political culture was developing in Hong Kong.
At the same time, there was a surge of political change in
the region where the quality of governance had become
increasingly identified as crucial to a society's success.
Although formal political change was slow in Hong Kong,
she believed that it would come in the big "P"
arena sooner or later. In the mean time, there was much
that could be done in small "p" politics since
efforts in that area could expedite formal political
reform, and in any event, it was crucial for Hong Kong to
envigorate the building of civil society.
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|Ms Loh is asked often to explain
Hong Kong political system and she realized
that the more people understood, the more
they were appalled by the inherent
unfairness of it.
Ms Loh was asked whether Hong Kong people were
interested in politics, particularly in view of the low
turn out voter rate for the Election Committee on 9 July.
Ms Loh thought that people felt alienated by the EC
election. Most people didn't understand how it worked and
it only involved a small section of the community. While
EC seats would disappear by the 2004 LegCo election, there
would still be 30 functional constituency seats, which Ms
Loh felt was equally alienating of the general public. Ms
Loh's strategy was to shine as much light on the EC and FC
systems as possible. She had been asked often to explain
Hong Kong political system and she realized that the more
people understood, the more they were appalled by the
inherent unfairness of it. She believed that the systems
would disappear sooner rather than later under intense
light and public scrutiny.
As such, Ms Loh wanted to become more active in
stimulating small "p" politics. Her experience
over the last 9 years had given her the insight that
ordinary people can be and want to be engaged in public
affairs discussions and decision-making. That experience
was reinforced by her weekly e-Newsletter, which she has
been publishing since 1998. She found that people wanted
accurate information on issues they cared about. People
wanted information in "bite sizes" so that they
could grasp the essential elements in a few minutes. Ms
Loh believed that people had a thirst to understand and
saw it as a part of her job to help people to do so.
Once people got interested, they were prepared to be
engaged. She frequently received responses to her
e-Newsletters and also requests for what direct action
ordinary citizens could take up. Her experience gave her
the idea to develop a special bilingual public information
and service Internet web site so that people could find
out how the government and public bodies worked, and how
to navigate them. However, beyond broadcasting
information, the site would also have an on-line citizens
advice service so that people could request help by simply
sending an email.
The project was called the Civic Exchange. The pilot site
would concentrate on environmental issues, since Ms Loh
was well known in that area. Take the topic of smoky
vehicles. Ms Loh said that she received hundreds of
similar requests for information. The web site would
provide everything one would want to know in a easily
digestible, succinct, manner.
The government had its own sites, which in Ms Loh's
opinion were not always helpful to someone who wanted to
find out who was responsible for a particular area of
policy and how to engage that person or unit in
constructive dialogue. Ms Loh recalled a constituent who
was a restauranteur. The road outside the restaurant was
steep and people frequently slipped on rainy days. Then on
one day, someone slipped and died. The restauranteur spent
weeks trying to get someone from the government to improve
the road to prevent accidents. In the end, the
restauranteur came to Ms Loh for help, having been
defeated by the bureaucracy. Ms Loh realized from doing
constituency cases that what was needed was a way to help
people to help themselves because there would never be
enough elected representatives to do everything that
needed doing. She realized that if she could help people
to understand who was responsible for what within the
government and how to deal with the bureaucracy, people
would become more effective and therefore more empowered.
The Civic Exchange site, however, would not compete with
the govenment-to-citizen business sites, such as those
renewing licences, paying bills etc. Its goal was directed
at educating citizens about how to engage the public
sector on public issues. It could even tell people what
they should do if they wanted to organize a legal public
demonstration (Ms Loh had been asked such a question by
Ms Loh hoped that the pilot site would be ready by March
2001. Perhaps the site, if successful, could one day be
Hong Kong's politics portal. If the pilot was found
useful, she hoped to be able to raise substantial funding
for a comprehensive public service site.
The Civic Exchange would also have a research arm. She
said that Hong Kong did not have a tradition of public
policy research. While Hong Kong had many capable people,
their talents had not been directed at thinking about
solutions in public policy. Public policy was different
from pure academic research. It needed a grounding in how
politics worked, including the laying out of options with
cost-benefit analysis for each of them.
Ms Loh's own background was diverse. She had studied law
and had a Masters Degree in Chinese and Comparative Law.
She had been a businesswoman for 15 years and her formal
political career spanned nearly a decade. She had had
extensive media exposure, including anchoring radio public
affairs programmes. She had also participated actively in
a number of NGOs. She felt that her experience gave her
what was necessary to articulate practical policy
recommendations. It was also what she liked doing most.
The Civic Exchange, as Ms Loh envisioned it, would provide
a "parking" space arrangement for "brain
power". Experts in many fields could work with the
organization as full-time, part-time or occasional
thinkers. The Civic Exchange would be a
"virtual" think thank, enabling experts to work
on a paid or voluntary basis and in a multi-disciplinary
manner. The fruits of its work would be promoted to
government officials, politicians, businessmen and other
opinions makers and shapers. The Civic Exchange would be a
non-profit and an independent enterprise. Ms Loh believed
that she could be an effective behind the scene lobbyist.
Working from that vantage point appealed to Ms Loh after
so many years in big "P" politics, where
fighting for sound bites and being able to claim victories
were the daily fodder of formal political life. As a think
tank worker, she could continue to work on issues she
cared most about, such as the environment, and be able to
cooperate with many more people. She saw her new role as a
thinker, advocate and facilitator for social change.
|To interest people in politics one
had to find ways to help people, see how
political decisions impacted their daily
How would she obtain funding? Ms Loh would fund herself
initially with her own resources. By using resources from
paid private work - such as writing analysis pieces - she
would fund her time to do public work. She has also had
offers of support for a free pied a terre space in
Central, as well as volunteer time from a whole variety of
highly qualified people. If the Civic Exchange proved
successful and if funds could be raised or its
"thinking" and solutions-oriented work, then it
might be time to actually pay rent for a more formal
office space and hire full time staff. She was starting
small but thinking big.
What about people not hooked up to the Internet? Firstly,
more and more people would get on-line. The Internet would
become an increasingly common tool. Secondly, it was
important to ensure that the socially and economically
disadvantaged, including the disabled, were e-enabled as
well. She recalled an experiment in Denmark where poor
families were given computers by the government. Hong Kong
could consider doing the same. What would then be needed
was a program to ensure the disadvantaged were able to
access help on how to use the Internet. That was where
students helpers would be useful.
Ms Loh was also asked how the professional and business
classes could be roused to see the importance of
participating in politics, including standing for
election. She pointed out the big "R" -
repetition. Many people still did not see the importance
of politics (i.e. the public decision-making process). To
interest people, one had to find ways to interest and
engage them and help people see how political decisions
impacted their daily lives. Hong Kong needed to give
itself good civic lessons. That was what the Civic
Exchange intended to help promote.
The above does not necessarily represent the
views of the Foundation