The year 2016 was definitely full of political sagas, and the government, echoing an old saying, seemed to have saved the best for last. Just days before the year drew to close, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam announced suddenly that a Forbidden City Museum will be built on a premium plot in the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD), setting off a firestorm of controversy.
At first, Lam argued that the reason why she didn’t consult the WKCD authority and the public on the issue is because she believed the public will definitely not say no to such a wonderful project, so there was no need to follow the standard consultation procedure.
Besides, she added, skipping the usual procedure can help ensure there won’t be any “unnecessary embarrassment” to the central government.
However, after days of bombardment from the pan-democrats and from even some people in the pro-establishment camp, Lam finally succumbed to pressure and agreed to attend a special session of the Legco House Committee last Friday in order to be grilled by lawmakers on the hotly debated issue.
Meanwhile, the government also announced that it would launch a six-week public consultation on the project.
As a matter of fact, Lam used to be a big fan of public consultation, and she is still remembered by her catch phrase “facilitating public engagement” which she often uttered while serving as Secretary for Development between 2007 and 2012.
However, the attitude toward public consultation seemed to have changed now, owing to the changing nature of public consultation itself in recent years. After Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying assumed office in 2012, his hostility toward the pro-democracy camp has led to a significant deterioration in relations between the two sides.
As a result, consultation bodies over policy initiatives have often become a battle-ground between the government and the pan-democrats. As the opposition tends to oppose whatever the government proposes, and sometimes even incites the public to oppose government policy initiatives based on flimsy grounds, the moderate voice is largely suppressed. In consequence, public consultations often end up going nowhere.
As such, while ditching proper consultation procedure is inappropriate, consulting the public alone may also not be enough.
Rather, what is needed is a mending of fences and rebuilding of trust with the pan-democrats, a task that should be top priority of whoever is elected the next Chief Executive.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 6
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]