2004年6月18日 星期五

A Job for all Hongkongers

(An edited version of this article was published in the South China Morning Post on 18 June 2004)

Ever since the Declaration on Hong Kong ’s Core Values was published on June 7, the enthusiastic public discussions have surprised even the signatories. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa should also be commended for an unusually swift response by arranging a meeting with some of the campaign’s initiators in less than a week.

While it is encouraging that Mr Tung and senior officials repeatedly reaffirm the government’s commitment to upholding Hong Kong ’s core values, two questions remain: are we talking about the same set of values? And, what next?

The fear in most people’s minds is that the core values treasured by the government are a set of pro-business values, which may leave out a lot of other values deemed essential by the community. While the importance of overseas investors looms large in the government’s media statements, core values such as social justice, fair play, equitable due process and democracy are noticeable by their absence.

The danger of pro-business values is not that it encourages unfair privileges to the business sector but that, by its very nature, only a select few businesses would be favoured. Under the guise of boosting the economy, a chosen few who could exert more influence on the administration would, in the absence of due process, benefit at the expense of all others.

Sadly, there were too many recent cases to illustrate that a distorted set of pro-business values would breed only money politics and cronyism. Public confidence in the integrity of the system has been undermined. What Hong Kong needs instead is a set of pro-market values which emphasises fair competition, transparent rules and equitable due process that allows all players to participate as equals. While this may sound too ideal to many, the first step is for us to recognise that we are going down the wrong path.

When asked in the recent meeting, Mr Tung specifically endorsed all the core values listed in the declaration, although he said he would like to add more, such as filial piety. This is, we hope, a sign that the administration is beginning to recognise that Hong Kong is more than just an economic city.

Many people queried why no solution was offered in the declaration.  Although many of the 294 co-signatories hold various positions in their respective sectors, we do not purport to represent the community at large. Indeed, it would be wrong to suggest that we have more credible solutions than many others who are equally concerned about the state of affairs in Hong Kong .

We explained to Mr Tung that what is needed most is not goodwill gestures to reconcile with a minority of elites, but a broad-based, open and transparent public participatory process through which members of the community can voice their concerns and propose the way forward.

For Hong Kong to get going again we need not only to recommit to a common set of core values, but also to embark on a partnership between the government and civil society. As Mr Tung rightly pointed out: “ Hong Kong ’s core values can be maintained and realised only through the joint efforts of the government and the community at large.” It is essential that Mr Tung’s newly found confidence in the community be translated into an empowerment of the people. This entails a switch of the government’s role from an aloof controller to a facilitator of core values in all policymaking.

To paraphrase the words of America ’s third president, Thomas Jefferson: “The price of upholding our core values is eternal vigilance.” And civil society must be the source of that vigilance.


Albert Lai Kwong-Tak is one of the convenors of the Hong Kong Core Values Declaration



2004年6月7日 星期一

VICTORIA HARBOUR It takes a team to build a new waterfront

 After months of silence, the controversy over harbour reclamation emerged again last month. Oddly, the issue this time is not reclamation itself, but whether the information issued for public consultation by the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee taskforce is merely another government attempt to push through its own agenda.

To assess whether this claim holds any water, it is first necessary to understand the make-up of the committee; a unique institution which straddles the government and the community at large.

In October 2003, when the reclamation controversy was at its peak, 16 civic organisations, including universities, professional bodies, environmental and community groups, got together under a new coalition - Citizen Envisioning @ Harbour. The coalition's preferred solution was to set up a harbour round table, whereby all stakeholders, including the government, business and civil society could gather on an equal footing, and set up an impartial platform for the public to develop a consensus for the way forward.

At that time, it proved too drastic a move for the government. Instead, it was agreed that the Harbourfront Enhancement Committee would be a compromise solution - an advisory committee within the government structure but with an independent chairman, a majority of nominated representatives from different concern groups, and relevant officials, all having equal status. It was an attempt, however imperfect, for a genuine tripartite partnership.

Over the past 10 months, members have worked hard to iron out their differences as they set about devising a model for public discussion. Integrated planning principles were debated for months, and an agreement is close. A fresh planning review for Kai Tak began four months ago. A harbourfront enhancement review for Wan Chai and its adjoining areas has just begun in earnest. More are in the pipeline.

The challenge should not be underestimated. Two committee members, Alvin Kwok Ngai-kuen and Ng Mee-kam, said the cultural gap was so wide that the officials had a different vocabulary from the other members: consultation versus engagement; top-down versus bottom-up; solution versus process; and clients versus stakeholders. The level of trust in the public also differs widely: officials prefer to stay within the safe haven of expert advice, whereas other members have more faith in the public to deliver innovative solutions.

With such a daunting challenge, can the committee fulfill its mission of engaging the public, building a consensus and delivering to Hong Kong a vibrant, accessible and sustainable harbour for all? As yet, no one has the answer. We do know, however, that the chances of success will be enhanced with practical changes in three areas.

First, the committee's internal working arrangements must be revamped to allow it to function as a co-ordinated body with equal contributions from all members. Essential measures would include giving all members independent secretariat support, equal access to information, and resources to undertake impartial research.

Second, it must empower the public with impartial, digestible and unfiltered information. In this regard, officials have an extra responsibility to ensure that their "wish list" and perceived "constraints list" are laid bare for the public to debate.

Last, the community should respond to the committee's call with a new mindset. Now that a platform is being set for genuine public engagement, it will be up to all stakeholders to not just participate in the process, but also to help improve it. The committee process is worth our support not because it is perfect, but because it may bring about significant community benefits if given the chance to succeed.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak is convenor of Citizen Envisioning @ Harbour.




2004年6月1日 星期二

Standing Firm on Hong Kong's Core Values

Worsening governance and rising frustrations: We are deeply concerned

It has been almost seven years since Hong Kong was returned to China . During the July 1st march last year, Hong Kong people witnessed a strong sense of being a community, sharing the same destiny and collectively expressed great concern about the city's future. However, one year on, our worry about Hong Kong 's future has only increased. We are greatly disturbed by the increasing erosion of Hong Kong 's core values. The goals pursued by our community are becoming more distant. The community is filled with a strong sense of helplessness and rising frustration. Our core values are being shaken. The city's governance and business environment has deteriorated and our society's institutional rationality and social cohesion has been weakened. We have come to a critical moment. The alarm is now ringing for us to defend Hong Kong 's core values.

Our core values: Hong Kong 's advantages; Building blocks for modernity

Hong Kong had accumulated a long history of fighting for a better system. The incessant efforts made by the Hong Kong people have produced a unique local culture that is underpinned by some core values most treasured by them and in line with the global modern civilization. These core values include: liberty, democracy, human rights, rule of law, fairness, social justice, peace and compassion, integrity and transparency, plurality, respect for individuals, and upholding professionalism. More and more Hong Kong people are convinced that in their pursuit of a higher quality of life, we must also adhere to the core values essential to sustainable development: broad-based community participation in public affairs, inter-generational equity, economic development with a human focus, environmental protection and reconciliation with nature.

Losing our core values is losing “ Hong Kong ”

We believe that Hong Kong is more than an economic city. It is where over six million people search for a greater meaning in life and build a better home to live in. By losing its core values, Hong Kong will become a city without soul and her people will then lose ' Hong Kong '. We, therefore, cannot afford to keep silent. Defending these core values is not just for the sake of preserving Hong Kong 's way of life, it serves to continue the cultural mission of modernizing the Chinese nation as a whole.

We are deeply distressed, but not in despair. We sign this Declaration in order to give support to each other and convey a key message to everyone and various organizations in Hong Kong : Let us stand firm on our core values. Let us work together, across different sectors and parties, to build our future together. Let us live out Hong Kong 's core values in the social, political, cultural and other aspects of our daily life. Let us act now so that tomorrow our children can take pride in what we are defending today!



香港回歸中國七年了。去年 「七一」大遊行,港人表達了強烈的命運共同體意識,表達了對香港未來的無限關切 。可是,近月來,我們對香港未來的擔憂卻有增無減。眼看著香港社會的核心價值備受衝擊,港人所追求的目標似乎離我們愈來愈遠,市民的無力感與挫折感日趨沉重,我們憂心忡忡。 核心價值的動搖,正在削弱香港的管治質素與營商環境 並破壞社會的制度理性與凝聚力 。我們認為,關鍵時刻已經到來,捍衛香港核心價值的警鐘已經響起。

 香港優勢 與現代化文明接軌 有賴核心價值

香港在過去發展過程中積累了一些成功的經驗,港人不懈的追求造就了有香港特色的地方文化,而支撐這些經驗和文化的,是港人引 以自豪、也與全球現代化文明接軌的一些體現香港優勢的核心價值, 它們 包括: 自由民主、人權法治、 公平公義 、和平仁愛、誠信透明、多元包容、尊重個人、恪守專業 愈來愈多港人亦已認同, 在追求生活質素提升的同時 也應本著可持續發展的目標價值 強調公民參與 致力跨代社會公義 尋求人本的經濟發展 並重視環境保護及人與自然的和諧。


我們認為,香港不只是一個經濟城市, 也是六百多萬港人安身立命、追尋生活意義、為下一代建設美好家園的地方。失去了香港的核心價值,這座城市便變成失去靈魂的軀殼,港人也就失去了「香港」, 我們因此不能沉默。維護香港核心價值,也體現港人在中國現代化進程中的文化使命。

我們憂慮,但我們並不悲觀。我們以此宣言,互勉互勵,並向香港市民及各團體作出呼籲: 讓我們不分階層界別、不分黨派,皆能在社會、政治、文化及個人生活上的每一個層面,以言論及行動去 維護香港的核心價值 ,並為我們的子孫後代負起薪火相傳的責任!

Erosion of Hong Kong's values

(Originally published in South China Morning Post, 2004-6-1 )

Every community defines itself by the intrinsic core values it believes in. Hong Kong is no exception. It prides itself on being a modern, cosmopolitan city which has grown from its Chinese roots. It thus shares, or at least aspires to, many universal values common to modern societies: freedom of expression, the rule of law, democracy, social equity, fair play, tolerance and intellectual honesty.

There are also a host of other, evolving values essential to sustainable development: diversity, reconciliation with nature, equity between generations, and the right for individuals to have access to decision-making in public policies.

In our social, political and daily lives, these core values are not only the yardstick of what is right or wrong, they even shape the relationship between the governing and the governed. Hence, any erosion of these values has the potential to change the nature of Hong Kong as we know it today. A couple of recent cases may help explain the gravity of the matter.

First, there is the controversy over the sale to developers of the seven high-rise residential buildings in the Hunghom Peninsula . They were built under the Home Ownership Scheme, the original intent of which was to use public resources to assist families who could not afford private housing. Under much pressure from developers, the scheme was discontinued to make way for the sale of private properties.

While it is debatable whether this policy may be justified by the spin-off benefits for society at large, it was never intended that the public resources allocated to subsidise low-income families should be diverted in any form to benefit private developers. Yet this was exactly what happened with the sale of the 2,470 brand-new flats to two major companies. Has the core value of social equity been upheld here?

Further, under the guise of a pre-existing public-private partnership arrangement, the flats were transferred to the developers with no open bidding process. Is the core value of fair play a loser in this case?

The developers are now sounding out the possibility of demolishing the buildings to make way for luxury flats, in order to make more money. If this scheme gets the go-ahead, taxpayers may have to foot the bill of more than $25 million for the disposal of building waste. Ultimately, this will mean more landfills and speedier environmental degradation in the New Territories . If paying due respect to nature is a core value, the creation of 200,000 tonnes of construction waste is a most effective way to go against this.

Second, take the ongoing controversy over the government's insistence on lumping cultural, commercial and residential elements of the West Kowloon Cultural District project into a single tender. The issue is not whether one or more of the developers will get a slice of the profits, but whether the core value of fair market competition enjoys any status. More important, given the size of the project, the level of public participation in the decision-making process has been abysmal.

And what about the rationale behind other incidents, such as the Harbour Fest fiasco, inaction over the destruction of many streams in the New Territories, and uncontrolled and illegal dumping in Lam Tsuen? The picture is truly dismal.

Many observers have said that intellectual honesty, equitable due process, the rule of law and freedom of speech are the latest casualties in the central government's newly defined relationship with Hong Kong . These core values are inseparable from those essential to good governance.

With constitutional development suspended, it can only aggravate the tendency of cronyism, which will grow at the expense of the core values we treasure.

Albert Lai Kwong-tak is chairman of the Conservancy Association.

(Originally published in South China Morning Post, 2004-6-1 )