Govt seeks help of university heads to reach out to young people

July 04, 2019 13:38
The government must rely on direct communications to be able to accurately read the public pulse. Photo:  Bloomberg

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor has pledged to reform the way the government listens to the views of the public.

In her speech during the reception celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the handover, the Hong Kong leader said she would “actively reach out to young people of different backgrounds through various channels to listen to their thoughts”.

The problem is, how can the administration effectively connect and exchange views with young people when the new generation harbors intense hostility towards the government?

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, the administration plans to secure help from some "middlemen" such as the heads of local universities and people in the tertiary education sector.

Since the former Central Policy Unit was revamped into the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office (PICO), the agency is no longer carrying out public opinion polls on a regular basis.

Now that the government has taken a renewed interest in ascertaining public sentiment through opinion polls, PICO is likely to spearhead the campaign.

However, public opinion polls have their limitations: all they do is gather a big pile of cold data.

In order to accurately read the public pulse, authorities must rely on direct communications with real people.

The idea of listening to the views of the youth is not a new goal for the current administration. Back in July 2017, when Lam assumed office as chief executive, she vowed to do that.

In fact, in order to achieve this goal, the PICO has recruited a number of young delegates over the past year or so.

Moreover, the administration has allowed young people to volunteer to join its consultation bodies.

Unfortunately, the extradition bill fiasco indicates that government efforts to listen to the views of the youth have completely failed.

It is said that it is against such a background that the administration is now tapping figures in the higher education sector and university heads to reach out to the youth. Nowadays, no organization can truly represent the new generation.

A government figure has stressed that this is only the beginning, as getting connected with the youth is a long-term mission.

Now let’s get back to the storming of the Legislative Council complex on Monday.

Although the rampage at Legco has drawn quite a backlash in society, and the pro-establishment camp quickly seized on the incident to slam their pan-democratic counterparts for turning a blind eye to the violent acts, the pan-dems have no intention of dissociating themselves from the young protesters.

A pan-dem lawmaker asserted that the Legco mayhem didn’t happen without any reason, and the government has itself to blame for refusing to respond to public demands.

On the other hand, Professor Wei Shyy, the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, published an open letter to all members of the university on Tuesday condemning the violence in the Legco incident.

At the same time, he called on society to get to the root of the problems, saying that repeating “identical statements or persistent confrontation will only bring more divide and can’t serve the interest of our home”. Hong Kong would be “the ultimate loser”, he said.

Shyy’s words have won a lot of praise: while sticking to his principle, he is also willing to take a step back and listen to different views instead of just condemning the behavior of the young protesters.

The question is, will our government officials also be willing to set aside their position and hold back on their criticisms in order to reconnect with our young people?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.