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The Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre (the Centre) today (13 July 2007) released the findings of a study report on civic engagement with a set of recommendations aiming at enhancing civic engagement in Hong Kong's future public policy making.
The University of Hong Kong's Centre for Civil Society and Governance was commissioned by the Centre as the Consultant to conduct the study in June 2006. Amongst other things, the Consultant recommended in the report:
(1) Developing a framework for civic engagement in policy-making. Every policy proposal put to the Executive Council must contain an assessment of the policy’s engagement process and its result, and a civic engagement code should be formulated for all policy-making bodies to follow;
(2) Adopting measures to strengthen the government's capacity to conduct civic engagement. These include civil service training, periodic secondment of civil servants to civil society organizations and provision of more work experience at the district level for administrative officers and substantial investment in policy research in all policy-making bodies and advisory committees;
(3) Strengthening the capacity of civil society to serve as an effective and responsible partner in civic engagement. These include developing programmes to strengthen their capacity in finance, human resources, management and research, etc; encouraging civil societies to form umbrella bodies within their sub-sectors to promote effective exchanges amongst themselves and with the government; enacting new nonprofit or charity laws on registration, governance, fundraising, reporting and accountability; and
(4) Negotiating an agreement between the Government and civil society to build effective relationship similar to the Compact in the UK (1998) and the Accord in Canada (2001).
Mr WK Lam, Convenor of the Centre's Civic Engagement Study Group, said, 'Noting that Hong Kong is a relatively newcomer without a mature civic engagement system in place, the Study Group considers that a step-by-step approach would be desirable.'
'The most immediate task for the Government is to take steps to adopt civic engagement in respect of all policy areas and develop a code of good practice, for both the Government and civil society organizations to adopt. A few specific areas could be chosen for priority test applications, such as heritage, health care, city planning and development.'
Mr Lam said there should be a fundamental change to the way that policy proposals are developed. 'Government needs to be open-minded and should reach out to the attentive public to gauge their views to supplement formal engagement with civil societies,' he said.
To ensure successful development of a civic engagement policy, the Study Group believes that the subject should be given priority attention at the highest level of the Government. The group further suggested that the incumbent of the newly created Deputy Director post of each Bureau should be held responsible for the development and implementation of this policy.
The Study Group also noted that civic engagement was no panacea, and could not be a substitute for due political process.
'Debates in an open society like Hong Kong inevitably involves diverse interests and generates lots of controversy. In the end, Government has to be the ultimate arbitrator of interests. It also has the ultimate role to lead by taking hard decisions as necessary,' said Mr Lam.