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Advisory Council on the Environment

Opening up of ACE Meetings to the Public

(ACE Paper 6/2002)
For discussion

Purpose

This paper sets out the practice of some government boards and committees with regard to the opening up of meetings to the public and other related information to facilitate Members' consideration of whether meetings of the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Subcommittee should be opened to the public.

Background

2. On 5 June 2001, the LegCo Panel on Environmental Affairs discussed the composition and terms of reference of ACE. A motion was subsequently passed by the Panel to request the Administration to increase the transparency of the Council, including opening up its meetings and announcing the criteria for appointment of members.

3. At the 85th ACE meeting held on 21 June 2001, Members noted the Panel's concerns and agreed that the issue of opening up meetings to the public should be further discussed at future meetings and that, to facilitate discussion, a paper setting out the practice of similar government boards and committees should be compiled for Members' information.

Discussions at past meetings

4. The issue of whether ACE meetings should be opened to the public has been discussed several times in the past. The last two discussions took place at the 51st and 75th meetings held on 18 May 1998 and 26 June 2000 respectively. The conclusion of the 51st meeting was that ACE meetings should not be opened to the public but that the agenda, papers and minutes of meetings should be made available to the public through the Internet. At present, members of the public can obtain information related to ACE through the Internet and press briefings held after each meeting. Details of the arrangements are at Annex A.

5. At the 75th meeting held on 26 June 2000, Members had no strong views either way. Whilst some Members supported enhancing transparency by opening up the meetings, there were also concerns that discussions might become politicized as a result. As regards the EIA Subcommittee, there was strong preference for maintaining the status quo because that would allow more room for negotiation and mediation. The general consensus of Members at that time was that with the setting up of the Council for Sustainable Development, the terms of reference of ACE might need to be reviewed to see how the two bodies would complement each other. Given the short duration of the remaining term of Members' service, it was agreed not to make any immediate change and to defer the decision to the next session.

Practice of other government boards and committees

6. At present, there are about 600 boards and committees advising the Government on a broad spectrum of issues and/or performing a wide range of functions. The Administration has been encouraging these bodies to adopt various measures to enhance their transparency as far as possible. These include making available to the public the composition of and background information on their members, their major functions, and agendas and papers of their meetings. Some of these bodies also open up their meetings to the public. However, in view of the diverse nature and functions of these bodies, the Administration does not consider it appropriate to lay down any specific requirements especially in respect of opening up of meetings.

7. Roughly about 19% of these bodies open up all their meetings to members of the public while 2% open up only some of their meetings when their members consider it appropriate to do so. The list of these bodies is at Annex B. In addition to making available to the public background information about the board or committee itself (e.g. the terms of reference and membership etc.), government boards and committees also adopt other measures to enhance their transparency. These include releasing the agendas/papers/records of meetings upon request and issuing press release and/or holding press briefings after each meeting.

8. In addition to ACE, there are seven boards and committees advising the Government on matters falling under the policy purview of the Environment and Food Bureau including environmental protection, conservation, and environmental hygiene. Only two of them, viz. the Country and Marine Parks Board and the Wetland Advisory Committee, have opened up their meetings to the public. The terms of reference of these seven boards and committees and the measures they adopt in increasing their transparency are set out at section I of Annex C MSWORD.

9. Reference has also been drawn to the Transport Advisory Committee and Town Planning Board that are of similar scale and nature as ACE. Both of them do not open up their meetings to the public. However, like other government boards and committees, they have adopted various measures to enhance the public's understanding of their work. Their terms of reference and details of the measures they currently adopt are set out in section II of Annex C.

Possible physical constraints

10. The conference room of EFB currently used for holding ACE meetings is limited in space. It is not possible to set aside an area to accommodate observers if Members decide to open up meetings to the public. Enlargement of the conference room is not feasible because the only area available next to the conference room is an exit provided as a means of escape under the Code of Practice of the Building Ordinance.

11. If Members decide to open up meetings of the Council and/or the EIA Subcommittee, a possible option is to accommodate the observers in another conference room with a seating capacity of about 20 persons on the same floor. Video and audio facilities will be installed through which they can observe the proceedings on a television monitor. We would have to explore alternative venues subject to Members' decision.

Advice sought

12. Members are invited to give their views on whether ACE and EIA Subcommittee meetings should be opened to the public.

ACE Secretariat
February 2002




Annex A

Public Access to Information relating to
the Advisory Council on the Environment

Members of the public can have access to matters relating to the ACE through the following means -
 

  1. the Internet - ACE's membership, terms of reference, agendas, papers (other than classified papers of which there are only a few) and confirmed minutes of meetings (without mentioning Members' names) are available from the homepage of the Environment and Food Bureau (http:/www.info.gov.hk/efb). The public may also use the Suggestion Box in the homepage to enquire about ACE matters; and
     
  2. media briefings - after each ACE meeting, the Chairman accompanied by the Secretary will meet the media and brief them on subjects discussed at the meeting, the main points raised, and the conclusions reached. There is a Question & Answer session after the briefing.





Annex B

Government Boards and Committees which Open up Meetings to the Public

Section I Boards and committees which open up all meetings to the public

Name
Telecommunications Standards Advisory Committee
Telecommunications Users and Consumers Advisory Committee
Kwun Tong West Area Committee
Kwun Tong South Area Committee
Kwai Tsing District Fight Crime Committee
Tsuen Wan District Fight Crime Committee
Radio Spectrum Advisory Committee
Tsim Sha Tsui Area Committee
Mong Kok Area Committee
Prince Edward Area Committee
Tai Kok Tsui Area Committee
Yau Ma Tei Area Committee
Yuen Long Town Area Committee
Tin Shui Wai Area Committee
Lamma Area Committee
Cheung Chau Area Committee
Lantau Area Committee
Peng Chau/Discovery Bay Area Committee
Choi Ngau Area Committee
Tuen Mun North East Area Committee
Tuen Mun South West Area Committee
Tuen Mun Tai Hing & Shan King Area Committee
Tuen Mun South East Area Committee
Tuen Mun North West Area Committee
Kwai Chung North East Area Committee
Kwai Chung Central & South Area Committee
Kwai Chung West Area Committee
Tsing Yi (South West) Area Committee
Tsing Yi (North East) Area Committee
Southern District Summer Youth Programme Coordinating Committee
Eastern District Youth Recreation Coordinating Committee
Pharmacy and Poisons Appeal Tribunal
Appeal Board Panel (Town Planning)
Appeal Tribunal Panel (Buildings)
Central & Western District Fight Crime Committee
Eastern District Fight Crime Committee
Kowloon City District Fight Crime Committee
Pilotage advisory Committee
Shipping Consultative Committee
Port Operations Committee
Provisional Local Vessel Advisory Committee
Advisory Committee on the Quality of Water Supplies
Kwun Tong district Fight Crime Committee
North District Fight Crime Committee
Sha Tin District Fight Crime Committee
Tai Po District Fight Crime Committee
Tuen Mun District Summer Youth Programme Coordinating Committee
Yee Wan Area Committee
Wan Tai Area Committee
Hong Shing Area Committee
North Point East Area Committee
North Point West Area Committee
Mid Levels Area Committee
Kennedy Town Area Committee
Sai Ying Pun Area Committee
Chung Wan and Sheung Wan Area Committee
Sha Tin East Three Area Committee
Sha Tin East Two Area Committee
Sha Tin East One Area Committee
Sha Tin West Three Area Committee
Sha Tin West Two Area Committee
Sha Tin West 1 Area Committee
Sai Kung Area Committee
Tseung Kwan O North Area Committee
Sham Shui Po West Area Committee
Hung Hom Area Committee
Homantin Area Committee
Lung Tong Area Committee
Tokwawan Area Committee
Aberdeen, Tin Wan and Shek Pai Wan Area Committee
Ap Lei Chau Area Committee
Wah Fu and Pokfulam Area Committee
Wong Chuk Hang and Stanley Area Committee
Wong Tai Sin West Area Committee
Wong Tai Sin Area Committee
Tsz Wan Shan Area Committee
Chuk Yuen Area Committee
San Tsuen Area Committee
Tseung Kwan O (South) Area Committee
Sham Shui Po District Fight Crime Committee
Sha Tin District Summer Youth Programme Coordinating Committee
Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education
Commission on Youth
Kwun Tong District Summer Youth Programme Co-ordinating Committee
Tsuen Wan District Summer Youth Programme Co-ordinating Committee
Broadcasting Authority Codes of Practice Committee
Telecommunications Numbering Advisory Committee
Electrical Safety Advisory Committee
Sham Shui Po South Area committee
Sham Shui Po East Area committee
Wong Nai Chung Area Committee
Wan Chai Mid-Levels Area Committee
Causeway Bay Area Committee
Wan Chai Area Committee
Sham Shui Po Central Area Committee
Tsuen Wan Rural Area Committee
Tsuen Wan East Area Committee
Tsuen Wan Rural Area Committee
Tsuen Wan Rural Area Committee
Wan Chai District Flight Crime Committee
Yau Tsim Mong District Fight Crime Committee
Islands District Fight Crime Committee
Lam Tin Area Committee
Ngau Tau Kok & Lok Wah Area Committee
Sau Mau Ping Area Committee
Shun Lee Shun Tin Area Committee
Kwun Tong Town & Industrial Area Committee
Animal Welfare Advisory Group
Country and Marine Parks Board
Veterinary Surgeons Board
Wetland Advisory Committee
Tai Po District Summer Youth Programme Organising Committee
Summer Youth Programme District Co-ordinating Committee (Wan Chai)
Appeal Panel (Estate Agents Ordinance)
Hong Kong Housing Authority
Residential Care Homes (Elderly Persons) Appeal Board
Copyright Tribunal
Hong Kong Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation

Section II Boards and committees which open up only some of their meetings to the public

Name
Disciplinary Board Panel (Land Survey)
Yuen Long District Fight Crime Committee
Air Transport Licensing Authority
Southern District Fight Crime Committee
Kowloon City District Summer Youth Programme Co-ordinating Committee
Air Pollution Control Appeal Board
Noise Control Appeal Board
Waste Disposal Appeal Board
Dumping at Sea Appeal Board
Waste Disposal Appeal Board
Environmental Impact Assessment Appeal Board

 

 

 

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