LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL PANEL ON
REVIEW OF DISTRICT ORGANISATIONS
The public consultation document on the Review of District Organisations was issued on 1 June 1998. A brief was issued to Members elect in early June. An additional copy each of the public consultation document and summary leaflet in both Chinese and English is attached for Members' easy reference.
2. The Administration's broad objectives in the review of district organisations are -
- to identify how the functions of the district organisations, particularly the Municipal Councils, should best be performed;
- to enhance public accountability and cost-effectiveness in the use of public funds;
- to propose changes to the present structure of district organisations to reduce duplication of efforts and improve efficiency; and
- to maintain district identity and strengthen public participation in community affairs.
3. In the consultation document, the Administration puts forward proposals for changes to the functions and funding arrangements of the Municipal Councils and options for change to the structure and composition of district organisations. We are particularly concerned about the problem of fragmentation of responsibilities in food safety and environmental hygiene between the Municipal Councils and the relevant Government agencies. The current system hampers policy co-ordination, efficiency, and application of consistent health standards. We therefore propose that the Government should assume responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene under a single agency to be financed as any other government agencies on a vote-funded basis. We also propose that there should be revised funding arrangements for the Municipal Councils' remaining functions in arts and culture and sports and recreation to achieve greater accountability and cost-effectiveness in the use of public funds.
4. As regards the broad options for change to the structure of district organisations, the options are -
- To amalgamate the two Municipal Councils into one territory-wide council responsible for providing services relating to arts and culture as well as sports and recreation. The 18 District Boards would be left intact and retain their current functions as district level consultation bodies.
- To dissolve the two Municipal Councils and transfer their functions to the relevant policy bureaux and departments, or other statutory bodies. The 18 District Boards would be given additional municipal responsibilities in their respective districts.
- To merge the two Municipal Councils and all District Boards to form a small number of regional bodies. Some functions such as planning and management of territory-wide venues could be transferred to government agencies or territory-wide statutory bodies. The regional bodies would take care of the residual functions.
- To retain the existing structure of two Municipal Councils and 18 District Boards but improve the co-ordination between the two Municipal Councils so as to enhance consistency of policies and practices.
5. As regards the composition of district organisations, the document discusses the following issues -
- whether some appointed and ex-officio seats should be retained or deleted;
- whether direct elections to the Municipal Councils should be replaced by indirect elections through the District Boards; and
- whether the population size of District Board constituencies should be changed.
6. As at 17 July 1998, we have received over 190 written submissions from individuals and organisations. We have also received about 140 submissions in the form of questionnaires. We have attended meetings of the two Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs) and 16 Provisional District Boards (PDBs) and attended meetings organised by the arts and sports community to solicit their views. We shall attend the meetings of the remaining two Provisional District Boards and the Heung Yee Kuk on 21 July. We also collect the views expressed through the media including commentaries and letters to the editor and relevant public opinion surveys.
7. In addition, through the assistance of Home Affairs Department, we have arranged seven public forums to brief members of the Area Committees, office-bearers of the Mutual Aid Committees, Owners' Corporations and district arts and sports organisations and other members of the public on the review and solicit their views. Three forums have been held so far and four more will be held in the coming week.
VIEWS OBTAINED SO FAR
(A) Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene
8. On the proposal for Government to assume responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, most of the submissions which commented on this subject supported the proposal. Among the Provisional District Board members who commented on this subject, about half supported the Government taking over the responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene. The Hong Kong Medical Association also supports the proposal.
9. The reasons given for supporting the Government to assume responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene include the following:
- food safety measures and food standards required professional expertise which was more readily available in the Government;
- setting up a dedicated department under the direction of a policy bureau to be responsible for food functions would be the best way to ensure that the Government was fully committed to giving priority attention towards this important area;
- it would be more efficient for the Government to formulate and co-ordinate the relevant policies and to respond to emergencies;
- better allocation and use of resources and public funds would be achieved; and
- the Legislative Council, District Boards and the media, etc. would continue to monitor the work of the relevant Government departments. Accountability would be maintained and even enhanced.
10. On the other hand, there is a minority view represented mainly by members of the Provisional Municipal Councils and a number of PDB members who objected to the Government's proposal to take over responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, questioning if there would be sufficient monitoring by the community. Some said that this would mean a reduction in transparency and a retrograde step in democratisation.
11. A few Provisional District Board members suggested that the Government should assume responsibility for food safety while a combined municipal council should continue to be responsible for environmental hygiene.
(B) Funding Arrangements
12. Of those who commented on the proposal to revise the financing arrangement of the Municipal Councils, the majority supported the proposal to enhance the role of the LegCo in scrutinising the Municipal Councils' expenditure, including large capital works projects. They believed that this would ensure the optimal use of public money and improve cost-effectiveness and accountability.
13. A majority of the views collected through various sources supported retaining the 18 District Boards, expanding their role and increasing the resources available to them. Only a minority of the submissions and of the Provisional Municipal Council and Provisional District Board members supported merging the Municipal Councils and District Boards to form a small number of district organisations, i.e. option (iii) mentioned in paragraph 4 above.
14. As regards the future of the Municipal Councils, a majority of the written submissions received from the public supported reforming or dissolving the Municipal Councils and redistributing their functions to government departments, other statutory bodies, District Boards, and/or a small number of district organisations. The Provisional Urban Council passed a motion on 14 July 1998, supporting the amalgamation of the two Municipal Councils into one council to be responsible for all the current functions of the Councils and to be serviced by one municipal services department. The Provisional Regional Council has not yet announced its formal position. A considerable number of Provisional District Board members who spoke on this subject preferred a gradual change to the district organisations, beginning with a merger of the Municipal Councils into one council, with a view to further streamlining the structure of the district organisations in due course.
15. Views on whether some appointed and ex-officio seats should be retained in the district organisations and on the population size of District Board constituencies were rather diverse. A small number of Provisional District Board members suggested that direct elections to the Municipal Councils or a combined council should be replaced by indirect elections through District Boards.
The Way forward
16. The consultation period will last until 31 July 1998. We will analyse the views and comments received carefully. A decision on the future structure and functions of district organisations will be announced in October 1998. Since the term of office of members of the Provisional Municipal Councils and Provisional District Boards will end no later than 31 December 1999, we aim to hold elections for district organisations some time in late 1999, subject to the final decision on their structure, functions and composition after the consultation.
Constitutional Affairs Bureau
18 July 1998