Government releases full details of new advisory bodies and deputies' duties
Hong Kong's district councils are to be formed via government appointment, indirect and direct elections and ex officio membership, with all applicants to be vetted by an eligibility committee in order to ensure they are able to perform the roles initially set for them, the HKSAR government announced on Tuesday.
District council reform, which is part of the government's plan to strengthen administration, seeks to depoliticize councils and keep them firmly in the hands of those designated as patriots.
The number of seats after the reform will be 470, slightly down from the current 479. Aside from 27 ex officio members from New Territories rural committees, members will either be appointed by the government or through indirect and direct elections, at a ratio of 4:4:2, respectively. In other words, 88 members will be returned by geographic polls. Another 176 seats will be filled by members of Area Committees, District Crime Fighting Committees and District Fire Safety Committees.
Announcing the details of the overhaul on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said the reform of district councils was necessary due to the current, unacceptable situation, under which district councils have been reduced to one-third their strength due to resignations or disqualifications.
Many council members failed to ensure councils were performing their roles as district advisory bodies, and instead engaged in activities that endangered national security by advocating for separatism, condoning violence, and opposing the National Security Law for Hong Kong and the administration of the HKSAR government, Lee said.
All new council members will need to be vetted by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, which is led by Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki in a bid to protect national security and fully implement the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong", two of the three principles guiding reform. The third is to enhance executive-led district administration.
A sense of urgency spurred the need for reform following social unrest in 2019, which sounded the alarm on closing the loophole that previously allowed district councils to be used by anti-China troublemakers and turned into platforms for advocating separatism and violence, Lee said.
District officers, the heads of each district office, will also assume the role of council chair under the new arrangement in order to enhance executive-led district administration and better take the lead in mobilizing and coordinating district affairs. District councils can also be remodeled to take a supporting role in helping the government gauge district affairs, unite the people and rally public support.
The government will introduce a mechanism for supervision to ensure that councilors perform their duties. Those who fail to meet public expectations will be subject to investigation and may face consequences.
The government will alter existing district administration structure and leadership by establishing a committee headed by the chief secretary for administration. In the meanwhile, it will replace the Steering Committee on District Administration with a different task force led by the deputy chief secretary for administration to coordinate and supervise different policy bureaus and departments involved in district administration.
Speaking at the same briefing, Eric Chan Kwok-ki said the new councils will not be tasked with supervising or approving funds to prevent council members from abusing their power and obstructing government administration.
The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions issued its full support for the SAR government's proposals on Tuesday.
In a statement, their spokesperson said that unions will take an active part in district council elections under the new system, cooperate with the government on district governance, serve the community and work hard to improve livelihoods.
Lawmaker Nixie Lam Lam said the new council formation will expand participation and could help attract more committed community members to serve the city.