|LCQ3: Development of district administration
Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk Man and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (February 11):
In as early as 1994, all appointed seats of District Boards (DBs) were abolished, and all DB members (except the 27 ex-officio members of the New Territories DBs, who were all Rural Committee chairmen) were returned by geographical constituencies. Yet, the Government re-instated 102 appointed seats in the District Councils (DCs) in 2000. There have been criticisms that the re-instatement is tantamount to changing the voting results of the DC elections. Moreover, the Government often appoints people who support its policies as DC members, leading to imbalance in the political "ecology" in the districts. Furthermore, the Government has so far not fully honoured the promise it made when the Urban Council and Regional Council were dissolved on January 1, 2000, i.e. to allocate more resources to the DCs and enhance their functions to encourage public participation in public affairs at the district level. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:
(a) at present it has any plan to amend the District Councils Ordinance to abolish all appointed DC seats and have all DC members returned by geographical constituencies; if it has, when it will implement the plan; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(b) it will delegate to the DCs all the powers of the two former Municipal Councils; if so, when it will be implemented; if not, of the reasons for that?
(a) The appointment system of District Councillors has provided a channel for community leaders and individuals with different experience to serve the community. Appointed members have made constructive and useful contribution to the work of the DCs.
In 2006, a public consultation exercise was conducted on the review of the role, functions and composition of the DCs. In the process, individuals who had put forward their views generally recognised the contributions of the appointed members to the DCs. People who agreed to retain the appointed seats commented that such seats would allow more people of different backgrounds, such as professionals and businessmen, to take part in the management of district affairs. Their professional knowledge and experience could complement the elected DC members and contribute to the DCs. Those who objected to the retaining of appointed seats also commended the appointed members for their quality and their contributions to the DCs.
The recommendations in the 2006 District Councils Review (2006 DC Review), for example, enhancing the involvement of the DCs in the management of district facilities, have been implemented fully territory-wide in the 18 districts in 2008. To ensure the smooth operation of district services in implementing these recommendations, we consider retaining the appointed seats will be more prudent.
Among the serving appointed members, about 90 per cent are of business, industrial, professional or management background. This is higher than the respective 64 per cent among territory-wide DC members. We believe that appointed members can continue to contribute to the management of district facilities by their expertise and experience.
The future composition of DCs will be considered in the light of the actual operation experience of the current term of the DCs, in particular after the role and functions of the DCs in managing district facilities have been enhanced.
(b) When the two Municipal Councils were abolished, we suggested strengthening the role and functions of the DCs so as to enhance their involvement and monitoring of district affairs.
The Government has reviewed the role and functions of the DCs in 2001 and recommended enhancing the DCs' role and functions. The recommendations were implemented following consultation with the DCs, the Legislative Council and the public.
To further develop district administration and enhance the role of DCs, the Government has introduced new arrangements in the 18 districts when the new DC term commenced in 2008.
Under the new arrangements, the DCs are involved in the management of some district facilities including community halls, public libraries, leisure grounds, sports venues, public swimming pools and beaches.
Furthermore, starting from 2008-09, we have increased the annual provision to the DCs to $300 million for organising community involvement programmes with district characteristics. We have also made available to the DCs a dedicated capital works block vote of $300 million, on an annual basis, for carrying out district minor works projects.
Heads of departments providing direct services to the public would continue to attend DC meetings regularly to explain government policies to the members.
We have also arranged personal briefings by heads of departments to DC members on the overall development strategies from a macro point of view on issues under their respective purview.
The Summit on District Administration chaired by the Chief Executive was held in May 2008. The Summit provided a forum for exchanges between DC members and the policy bureaux and departments on issues relating to the livelihood of the general public. Over 800 people attended the Summit including Principal Officials, relevant permanent secretaries and heads of departments.
As these new arrangements were only launched territory-wide last year, we would continue to monitor the operation of the DCs and would only consider at an appropriate time whether the functions of the DCs should be further enhanced.
Ends/Wednesday, February 11, 2009