3rd May 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong government has released a proposal to reform the district council system, which includes significant changes to the way in which district councils are formed and their functions. The aim is to re-establish them as non-political local organisations that work solely for the betterment of the community, while also reflecting the government’s administrative leadership and “patriotic governance of Hong Kong” political bottom line, in line with government policies. This move will involve the re-districting of local areas, the reintroduction of appointed council seats, and the creation of district committees, similar to the “election committee” of the Legislative Council, which will represent specialised fields, public opinion, and social stability, thereby enhancing the level of local governance. This is a necessary step towards restoring order and direction to the district council system.

The Hong Kong government has cited the need to strengthen the district governance structure to enhance the efficacy of district governance. The proposals on improving governance at the district level are guided by three principles: (1) national security must be put as the topmost priority, and the “one country, two systems” principle must be fully and faithfully implemented; (2) the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” must be fully implemented; and (3) executive-led governance must be manifested.

The district council system was established in 1982. Since then, it has undergone several reforms, with the number of appointed council seats gradually decreasing. However, its role has always been to provide advice to the government on matters related to the daily lives of citizens, and it has served as a non-political local advisory organisation, as stipulated in Article 97 of the Basic Law.

In recent years, district councils have gradually deviated from their roles and functions, becoming increasingly politicised. Election and operational irregularities have also increased, causing them to stray from their original purpose of serving the community and becoming platforms for individuals with other motives to misuse the system and attack the government’s policies. This has made it difficult for patriotic and pro-Hong Kong individuals who wish to serve their communities to play an active role. In 2019, district councils were “seized” by black-clad rioters who promoted political issues such as “Hong Kong independence,” indiscriminately vetoing district events and funding, causing serious harm to social development and citizen well-being.

It is no secret that the introduction of a monitoring system for district councillors and the reintroduction of appointed council seats are aimed at ensuring the “patriotic governance of Hong Kong” and the government’s administrative leadership. Past experience has also shown that appointed council seats provide more objective and professional opinions on issues that require a high level of expertise, such as technical projects or large-scale projects related to the welfare of most Hong Kong citizens, thus helping to avoid inappropriate planning. Combining directly elected seats with regional mutual election seats can better balance professional and public opinions, be more grounded, and ensure smooth communication channels.

Hong Kong is currently at a critical period of development, with many regional construction and development projects underway, including the Northern Metropolis, “Lantau Tomorrow Vision,” and the revitalisation of old areas and urban reconstruction. This reform of the district council system will not only strengthen its local advisory and community service functions, dispelling unrealistic illusions of individuals with other motives, but also help the government to better understand the key concerns of local residents, improve the quality of construction, assist in policy implementation, and maintain the long-term stability of “one country, two systems.” This is crucial to enhancing the overall level of governance in various regions and even in Hong Kong as a whole.