Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 3):
At present, all of the 405 elected members of the 18 District Councils (DCs) in Hong Kong were returned by a "single seat single vote" system, and the population of each constituency was just over 17,000 on average. There have been comments that due to the small population sizes of constituencies, certain DC members often discuss public policies and community issues from a narrow perspective and fail to balance the interests of different sectors, and some DC members only care about the views of their several thousand electors to the extent that they even object to the provision within their constituencies of some unpopular facilities which are necessary for the community. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council whether:
(a) they have assessed if the population of existing DC constituencies is so small that DC members lack representativeness, and that their perspective and experience in handling district administration affairs cannot be enhanced effectively; and
(b) they will consider raising the population quota of DC constituencies and adopting the proportional representation system for returning DC members of the next term, so as to make DC members answerable to electors of larger constituencies and hence better balance the interests of various parties in the district, and to allow the political party or alliance holding a majority of seats to be responsible for promoting the district administration of the entire DC district?
(a) The major functions of the DCs include advising the Government on matters affecting the well-being of local residents and those relating to the administration of the relevant Districts. The DCs also use funds available to promote recreational, cultural and community activities and undertake district minor works to improve the environment within the District.
When the DCs (then called District Boards) were established in 1982, each District was divided into a number of constituencies with one or two seats each. Elected Members were returned through the first-past-the-post system. Since 1994, each constituency has one seat.
As regards the demarcation of constituencies, according to the existing legislation, the Electoral Affairs Commission shall ensure that the population in each DC constituency is as near as is practicable to the "population quota" (PQ).
The PQ means the total population of Hong Kong divided by the total number of elected members to be returned in the DC ordinary election. In the 2007 DC Election, the PQ amounted to 17,300 persons. The 18 DCs comprised 405 constituencies in which all elected Members were returned through the first-past-the-post system.
Under the present arrangement of having a single seat for each constituency, members of the public have a clear idea as to which DC Member they may approach for assistance in respect of the local affairs of the constituency they live in. It also enables individual DC Members to maintain a close relationship with local residents so that they can have a firm grasp of the latest developments and needs of the relevant constituency. The arrangement is widely accepted and has been operating smoothly and effectively over the years.
Since the commencement of the new term in January 2008, the DCs have been actively involved in the management of some district facilities, and have made use of available resources to work on partnership projects in collaboration with various district organisations to achieve a wide range of social objectives.
The Government has taken action to enhance communication between DC Members and government departments to help strengthen district work and enhance the functions of the DCs. In addition to regular attendance of heads of departments at individual DC meetings to exchange views with DC Members, the Government has also organised sessions for heads of departments to brief the DC Members on the areas of work under their policy purview starting this year. These arrangements will help DC Members understand better the overall strategic planning and direction for future development in different policy areas, and facilitate their work in enhancing district administration.
(b) If the PQ in the DC election is raised, the number of constituencies will be reduced accordingly. If the proportional representation system is adopted at the same time, individual candidates will need to devote more resources to compete for seats with other candidates in the larger constituencies. This will raise the barrier for individual candidates to take part in elections, especially those who are independent and have no political affiliation.
As the existing mechanism has been running effectively and there is no widespread demand in the community for changes, we have no current plans to introduce new arrangements.
Ends/Wednesday, December 3, 2008