Motion on “Rebuilding Public Confidence” (2021.06.09)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, since the return of sovereignty, in order to gain political capital, Members from the opposition camp have been attacking the Government’s governance for a long time by distorting and discrediting its benevolent policies while magnifying its deficiencies. Unfortunately, the Government has all along failed to respond to these attacks, thus causing people’s confidence in the Government to nose dive.

With the actions taken by the Central Government, Hong Kong has eventually set things right and returned to the right track. I am very grateful to Mr Jeffrey LAM for proposing this motion, and I totally agree with that. At present, the top priority task of the Government is to rebuild public confidence in the Government. Many Members have offered quite a few insightful views today. I agree with most of them, so I am not going to repeat. I just want to focus on the point that I consider the most important.

One of the proposals in the original motion is to require officials to strengthen their communication with various stakeholders in the process of formulating major policies and extensively collect public views. I concur with the proposal, but I think it might not be sufficient. In my opinion, the Government must break with tradition and adopt a new mindset when making decisions. While major policies must be kept confidential all the way from the formative stage to approval, public views have to be consulted in each and every stage, so as to minimize the chances of making wrong decisions and achieve benevolent governance in the long run.

At present, the Government will consult stakeholders, Members and the public before formulating policies, and may even conduct large-scale public consultation according to actual needs, which is a good practice. However, when the policies were examined and formally approved, the Government would, using confidentiality as a reason, shut the door of communication and refuse to disclose any details or discuss them again with the public. There is no way the public can tell what is in the mind of the Government and on what basis the decisions are made. Government officials often hold discussions with Members only after a decision has been made. On the surface, this is a sign of respect for Members, but as the policy has already been formulated, Members were only being informed rather than consulted.

It was a traditional practice under elitism for officials to formulate policies with the confidentiality principle. It mainly seeks to ensure independent thinking by avoiding external influence, social conflicts or conflicts of interest arising from the disclosure of confidential information. Of course, there will be no problem if the decisions made by officials are correct, but given the complicated and volatile society of today, it is impossible for officials to keep tabs on the changes in public sentiments no matter how smart they are. In fact, public sentiment could have changed time and again in the process of policy deliberation, which may take a long time. It is thus impossible for the Government to fully understand the needs of society. The policies will be doomed to failure if officials made a wrong judgment, which will inevitably give rise to grievances.

In order to achieve benevolent governance and reduce policy blunders, the Government should consider seriously whether it should examine and decide on policies alone behind closed doors, or incorporate public views by all means to truly address the needs of society. As I have pointed out many times, officials and Members should be good partners. As officials are obliged to manage resources and take into consideration the interests of various parties, they tend to avoid making mistakes and often stay on the conservative side that would prevent them from grasping social changes. Members, on the other hand, have wide-stretching interpersonal and social networks that enable them to understand the needs of the community and be ready to innovate, which precisely makes up for the deficiencies of the officials. Therefore, officials should adopt a new mindset and discuss policies with Members at every stage from formulation to the concrete implementation, so as to ensure that they will not make decisions behind closed doors. Although these arguments may sound like cliché, it is time for the Government to earnestly look into this broken link in its governance.

Certainly, at the final stage, officials should be responsible for making independent judgments. Like judges, after gaining a full understanding of different issues, they are obliged to select the most appropriate policies for the community. The advantage of this proposal is that Members can participate throughout the entire process of policy formulation, so that the Government can have a good grasp of public sentiment, set priorities, even out distribution of interests and allocate resources to address the pain-points of the public. I believe this is the way to achieve benevolent governance.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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