Friday, December 14, 2012

Dam Nonsense

The Civil Servants General Union issued a statement a few weeks ago supporting the government's plan to build an artificial beach at Lung Mei in Taipo - a plan opposed by a broad coalition of green groups in Hong Kong because of its damaging impact on an area rich in marine life, including the increasingly rare seahorse.  Explaining the union's stance, Chairman Chung Kwok-sing said on TVB news that his members "just want the public to respect mechanisms that are put in place", saying that "the District Council is elected by residents, so if the Taipo Council approves the plan, that should represent the views of people living in Taipo".

Wrong, wrong, wrong, on several levels.  First of all,  it is naive to assume that because the District Council wants something, this necessarily reflects the views of local residents.  District Councillors often have their own agenda to pursue which may not represent the wishes of their constituents.  I have lived just a couple of miles along the road from the proposed beach site for the last ten years, and they certainly don't represent my views.  In fact, I never even heard of the proposal until it hit the news a couple of months ago, and although the beach site is in my constituency, I don't remember it being mentioned in either of our local candidates' manifestos in the last District Council election in 2011.  I suspect that many other Taipo residents were similarly unaware of the plan before and do not support it now that they know about it.

Secondly, the civil service should not be making political statements - it is not their job to decide whether something should or should not go ahead, only to implement it once it is decided to proceed.  Civil service neutrality is a key element of our political system, and needs to be understood and respected.  One who does not seem to understand it is former civil servant and now New People's Party leader in LegCo, Regina Ip, who commented on the case, saying that "in a democracy political neutrality means not favouring one party or politician over another".  Ip says this doesn't mean civil servants are not allowed to express opinions.  True, as individual members of society speaking in their private capacity; but collectively, they should stay out of arguments about whether or not a particular policy is correct.

Thirdly, it is clear that governmental consultation mechanisms in place are totally inadequate - but I will keep that for another post.

I wouldn't mind having a swimming beach close to my home, but the environmental price is too high to pay.  Why doesn't the government look into the possibility of constructing an artificial beach at the base of the Plover Cove dam, just round the corner from Lung Mei?  I have no idea whether it's possible, but if so, the damage would probably be much less since that's already an artificial environment.

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