Following the announcement on May 2 of a detailed plan to improve Hong Kong’s district administration, Hong Kong’s leading political parties and social groups quickly set up a coalition on May 5 to help the public better understand the reform plan and to consult public opinion.
Street stations were set up all over the 18 districts, mobilizing thousands of volunteers. In eight days, 1,190,760 signatures were collected in support of the overhaul, with 881,898 from street stations and 308,862 via online platforms. The collection of signatures is continuing.
As a member of the coalition as well as an elected legislative member from the geographical constituency of New Territories Southwest, I have been collaborating with the Federation of Trade Unions (Kwai Tsing and Tsuen Wan) district offices in organizing street stands, with politically appointed officials such as Deputy Secretary of Justice Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan and Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung taking part. My observation from running street stations is that the government’s proposal is widely welcomed by residents as reflected in the number of signatures collected in such a short time span.
This is bad news for Western politicians and the political agitators who fled Hong Kong to evade legal responsibilities following the “black-clad” riots in 2019, as they have been maliciously attacking the proposed reform on the city’s district governance. The message in supporting the overhaul is clear: We do not want to return to the chaos caused by the overpoliticization of district councils (DCs). The restructuring of DCs will better serve the interests of residents.
Article 97 of the Basic Law stipulates that DCs are designed to operate as nonpolitical regional entities, aiding the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government in district management and other local matters. They are responsible for providing cultural, recreational, environmental and health services. Despite their title as “councilors”, district councilors have never possessed constitutional or legal authority to monitor or oversee the executive branch. In accordance with the law, DCs are established solely for consultation and service provision purposes.
However, since 2003, district council elections had been distorted to serve as platforms projecting political views. Many directly elected district councilors were elected based solely on their political stance against legislation according to Article 23 of the Basic Law, which stipulates the HKSAR government’s constitutional responsibility to pass laws to safeguard national security. As such, Hong Kong was left vulnerable to national security threats until June 2020, when the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress helped Hong Kong out by passing the National Security Law for Hong Kong.
In 2019’s district council elections, anti-China and anti-HKSAR government politicians again used their political stunts to win seats, resulting in the then-opposition camp dominating 17 out of the 18 district councils. The local administrative bodies, which are meant to address local issues, were turned into handy tools for anti-China politicians to undermine the lawful governance of the HKSAR and to advance their anti-China or separatist agendas. Their behavior was outrageous on many occasions. For example, the then-Sham Shui Po district councilors posted notices outside the district office, refusing to serve local residents with different political stances. Some elected anti-China councilors took advantage of their dominance and misappropriated public funds that were intended for livelihoods and community improvement to benefit their own satellite organizations.
To prevent a recurrence of such scourges, the reform plan proposes introducing a performance monitoring system, which allows for the investigation of district councilors whose actions fall short of public expectations, and the imposition of appropriate sanctions based on the severity of any misbehavior. To enhance the advisory and service provider functions of DCs, the reform plan recommends appointing district officers as chairpersons of DCs and empowering them to guide the DCs’ work. This approach will help ensure that DCs do not stray from their intended path in future.
For the sake of diversifying councilorship as well as youth development, I, as the youngest Legislative Council member, have been advocating for facilitating their participation in DC work. I proposed to the politically appointed officials responsible for drafting the reform (specifically, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai and Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen of the HKSAR government) during a joint-panel meeting on May 4 that a certain percentage of the appointed seats be reserved for young people who are eager and willing to serve Hong Kong but lack the resources to participate in direct elections. By doing so, our DCs can help cultivate young political talent. When young people thrive, Hong Kong thrives. As I mentioned at the panel meeting, Mak entered politics in her early 20s as an appointed grassroots youth representative. The rest is history. My proposal has garnered support among young people, and so far has been positively received by the HKSAR government.
Reforming DCs is a crucial step for Hong Kong to achieve long-term prosperity by first realizing good governance at all levels of administration. DCs must revert to their original function as nonpolitical regional organizations under Article 97 of the Basic Law. The government aims to secure LegCo’s passage of the bill before its summer recess so that the next DC elections can take place at the end of this year, allowing the seventh-term DCs to assume office on the first day of 2024 as planned. I will certainly cast my vote in support.
The author is a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the UN Association of China and All-China Youth Federation.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.