Art Issues- Art and Social Justice
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決策也轉風向？ | A Significant Shift in Decision-making?
at 5:07pm on 22nd December 2019
1. A demand for an investigation at protest rally, 9 December 2019, Central, Hong Kong.
2. Now rejected by the Town Planning Board: an artist’s rendition provided by the Government Hill Concern Group of the Sheng Kung Hui’s proposed high-rise hospital on Bishop Hill, next to Government House, in Central
All Photos: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
自泛民在最近的區議會選舉中大獲全勝以來，對政府的反對與抨擊明顯更趨嚴苛 –– 我指的是來自建制派和政府委任組織的成員！
A Significant Shift in Decision-making?
by John Batten
Since the pan-democrat victory at the recent District Council election, there has been a significant toughening of objection and opposition to the government – from the pro-government camp and from members of its appointed institutions!
During the debate in the Legislative Council on the failed motion to impeach Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the usually docile Starry Lee launched a blistering attack on the failures of the Lam government, and on Lam herself. Of course, there was much self-interest in her virulent attack as many of her District Council DAB colleagues had lost their seats in the recent elections and the pro-government camp had lost control of all but one District Council. Lee’s attack was withering, and included the assertion that Hong Kong was almost in a “state of anarchy” and that the administration was non-functioning when “some of the officials…haven’t uttered a single word in the past months….” She particularly singled out the Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng for not initially explaining the full implications of the proposed extradition legislation, and the administration’s dithering to cancel the controversial bill after announcing its shelving two months earlier.
Last week, in a huge embarrassment to the government, the five members of the independent panel of overseas experts appointed to advise the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on police handling of the anti-government protests have quit. The IPCC has long been criticized even before the protests, as it only has a monitoring role, stacked with pro-government appointees and without full investigative powers. The Council is incapable of making conclusive investigations into complaints against police – as complaints against the police are first initiated by the police themselves. Tasked by the Lam government to report on the protests, the IPCC enquiry has never met the expectations of the public who demand a full independent investigation. The five overseas experts agreed with the public!
One of the first violent mass anti-government protests was on 24 August in Kwun Tong when newly installed smart lampposts were destroyed. Now, members of the Multi-functional Smart Lampposts Technical Advisory Ad Hoc Committee (yes, it is called that!) have suggested that smart lampposts should, in future, have their cameras replaced with heat sensors to monitor road traffic conditions and that an independent assessment should check individual lampposts to meet the public’s privacy concerns. Prior to the protests the government’s policy to introduce ‘smart city’ innovations could have been implemented without much restraint or discussion. This committee, without a single woman member (by the way), is now more circumspect about the government’s proposal to install 400 smart lampposts around Hong Kong without fully investigating the privacy and surveillance implications of these lampposts, and, despite the telecommunications industry pressuring the government to implement 5G technology inside future installed smart lampposts*.
In one of the first meetings of a major statutory body after the recent District Council elections, the Town Planning Board made an unprecedented decision to side with heritage and urban planning activists to overturn the Planning Department’s recommendation to support a huge 135m (25-storey) private hospital to be built by the Anglican Church (Sheng Kung Hui) on historic Bishop Hill in Central. In a loose alliance of opponents, led by the Government Hill Concern Group (an off-shoot of our Central & Western Concern Group) and including six district councilors, a rational and compelling presentation and a counter-proposal of an 80metres height limit was given to a full meeting of the Town Planning Board. The heritage activists’ argument to the Town Planning Board was simple: “After the District Council election, Hong Kong is different now: you can’t ignore the views of the public and just rubber-stamp government proposals.” And the political landscape really has changed, as the Town Planning Board agreed with us! Although we still need to monitor any future plans for Bishop Hill, a maximum building height of 80metres was imposed in an almost unprecedented decision by the Town Planning Board to side with activists against a government proposal.
This bodes well for better decision-making in Hong Kong – and, significantly, indicates that the government can’t casually rely on the support of its own supporters. The government and public servants who formulate policy initiatives must do much, much better: the public is watching.
*See the committee’s minutes and discussion papers at: https://www.ogcio.gov.hk/en/our_work/strategies/initiatives/smart_lampposts/committee/
This article was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 20 December 2019. Translated into Chinese by Aulina Chan.