the system of Goverment
The Foundation believes that it is urgent for a thorough and fundamental review
to be undertaken of our system of government.
To stimulate debate on this issue the Foundation organized a one-day seminar,
Government in Evolution in March.
The Government itself has initiated a consultation exercise on district organizations
calling for the submission of comments by the end of July. Therefore, it seems appropriate
for this article to focus on this part of our system of government and we will address
other areas over the coming months.
The Foundation is of the view that the Government is approaching this review of local
government from too narrow a perspective. We believe the opportunity should be taken to
examine the role of district organizations from first principles and to seek to identify a
model of true local government that would be suitable for operation in Hong Kong.
The Foundation believes that district organizations, or local government bodies as we
would prefer to see them evolve into, are as important a part of our governmental fabric
as other bodies such as the Legislative Council.
The Government's Review of District Organizations consultation paper focused on the
Municipal Councils and District Boards. It failed to make mention of the future role of
other district level organizations such as the Mutual Aid Committees, Owners Corporations,
Area Committees and District Management Committees. As Dr Sonny Lo pointed out in the
paper he presented at the Government in Evolution Seminar, since these organizations
already play a part in our system of district administration, their roles also need to be
re-evaluated as a part of any comprehensive review of district bodies.
In our response to the Review of District Organizations consultation paper, the
Foundation recommends that the Government takes time to thoroughly investigate the
question of district organization structure, including researching into systems of local
government in other jurisdictions, before it proceeds any further.
Abolish and consolidate
Abolish the two Municipal Councils and consolidate the 18 District Boards into a new
Area Council organization of between 5 to 10 Councils that would undertake real local
Area Councils would take on responsibility, within the Government's policy framework
and financial resources approved by the Legislative Council, for services such as
environmental hygiene, recreation and culture, environment, housing, primary and secondary
education, development planning and control, health and social services.
Area Councils should consist of between 25 to 30 members, depending on area size. With
fewer members, Councils should be able to work more efficiently and the pool of talent be
We envisage the abolition of appointed members, but in recognition of the value of
expert opinion to the Councils' deliberations, propose recognized experts be co-opted to
relevant Council sub-committees.
Improve system of management and monitoring
A system of functional sub-committees should be established for each Area Council to
enable them to carry out their functions more effectively.
Recent experience, such as the problems with the Hong Kong Stadium and the new Urban
Council Library design process have shown an urgent requirement for a radical overhaul of
the supporting district organization management structures and the implementation of
performance management and monitoring programmes.
Also, there has been evidence from the operation of the Municipal Councils that more
objective and critical judgement needs to be exercised in the spending of public funds, so
appropriate criteria and management systems should be introduced to improve this area of
A day's pay for a day's work
With the increased responsibilities it is proposed that the new Area Councils assume,
the level of remuneration of the Council members should be increased substantially
compared with that of the Provisional District Board members and to enable them to devote
a greater amount of time to their duties.
We also recommend that experts co-opted to the sub-committees be appropriately
Improved services through competition
While centralization is often equated with the maximization of efficiency, this can
equally well and possibly even better be achieved through competition. By empowering a
number of Area Councils to provide selected services, a competitive environment can be
established, whereby Councils that provide a better quality of service will serve as
benchmarks. This will exert pressure on Councils providing services less efficiently to
upgrade in the face of the threat of failure of their councillors to secure re-election by
Although Hong Kong is small both geographically and in population, we have grown into a
complex and sophisticated society and therefore require a system of government that is
relevant to our situation. In our view, a two-tier system comprising a centralized element
of Executive, Civil Service and Legislative Council and a proper single tier local
government element, to which responsibility and accountability for providing selected
services has been devolved, would best suit our needs.
George Cautherley, Vice Chairman