Senior officials of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, led by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (center), attend a news conference on the proposal to improve district administration at the Government Headquarters on Tuesday. (CALVIN NG / CHINA DAILY)

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 district administration, seeks to depoliticize councils and keep them firmly in the hands of patriots.

The Hong Kong community supports the government’s proposal, believing it will put the operation of district councils back on track.

The number of seats after the reform will be 470, slightly down from the current 479. Aside from the 27 ex-officio members from the 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 Fight Crime Committees, and District Fire Safety Committees through election. 

Announcing the details of the overhaul on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu said the reform of the district councils was necessary due to the current, unacceptable situation, under which district councils have only one-third their strength due to resignations or disqualifications. 

Many district council members failed to ensure the 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 SAR government, Lee said. 

All new members will also need to be vetted by the Candidate Eligibility Review Committee, which is led by Chief Secretary for Administration Chan Kwok-ki, in a bid to safeguard national security and fully implement the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, two of the three principles guiding the reform. The third is to enhance executive-led district administration. 

A sense of urgency spurred the need to reform following the 2019 social unrest, 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 roles 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 to help the government gauge district affairs, unite the people and rally public support. 

Chan, speaking at the same briefing, said the new district councils will not be tasked with supervising or approving funds to prevent council members from abusing their power to obstruct the government’s administration. 

Secretary for Home and Youth Affairs Alice Mak Mei-kuen said that under the reform, district councils have nine functions, including keeping in regular contact with residents to canvass views from a wide range of sources, and providing district services such as consultations and referrals.

District councils should help the government keep abreast of the latest developments in the districts and the needs of the community, so that the administration can plan district services more effectively and help to build community cohesion, she added.

The government will introduce a supervision mechanism to ensure that councilors perform their duties. Councilors who fail to meet public expectations will be subject to investigation and may face consequences. 

The government will assign the District Matters Co-ordination Task Force, led by Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration Cheuk Wing-hing, to work as a task force for district administration, replacing the Steering Committee on District Administration, to coordinate and supervise the different policy bureaus and departments involved in district administration.

The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions issued its full support for the SAR government’s proposal on Tuesday.

In a statement, the spokesperson said the unions would play an active part in district council elections under the new system, cooperate with the government in district governance, serve the community and earnestly strive to improve people’s livelihoods.

Lawmaker Nixie Lam Lam agreed that the reformation of the councils will increase the number of channels available to participants and could attract more committed community members to participate and serve the city.

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