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Advisory Council on the Environment

Opening up of Meetings to the Public


(ACE Paper 8/2003)
For discussion

Purpose

This paper sets out the practices of other government advisory committees with regard to the opening up of meetings to the public and other relevant information to facilitate Members' consideration of whether the meetings of ACE and its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Subcommittee should be opened to the public.

Background

2. At the meeting held on 13 January 2003, some Members suggested and the Council agreed to revisit the issue of whether the meetings of the Council and its EIA Subcommittee should be opened to the public. The Secretariat was requested to update the information on the practices of other government advisory committees for Members' reference.

Discussions at past meetings

3. The issue of whether Council meetings should be opened to the public has been discussed by the Council several times. At the Council's meeting on 18 May 1998, Members decided that the Council's 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. The issue was discussed again at the Council's meeting on 26 June 2000. Whilst some Members supported enhancing transparency by opening up the meetings of the full Council, there were concerns that the discussions might become politicized as a result. As regards the EIA Subcommittee, there was a strong preference for maintaining its meetings behind closed doors because that would allow more room for negotiation and mediation.

4. The Council last considered the issue on 29 April 2002 where Members held divergent views. Some Members considered that since the issues discussed by the Council were related to the livelihood and well being of the community, their deliberations should be made in open meetings. However, some Members were concerned about the impact on the quality of the discussions. If meetings were opened up, some Members could become hesitant in making comments that might provoke certain sectors of the community and those who have vested interests in the projects or subjects concerned in the presence of outsiders and the media attending the meeting. The quality of the discussions would be compromised as a result. In addition, they doubted the need to open up the meetings as the Council had already adopted sufficient measures to enhance its transparency, e.g. the Chairman holding press briefings after each meeting and the uploading of papers and minutes onto the Internet (details of measures at Annex A).

5. Members could not agree on whether the meetings of the EIA Subcommittee should be opened to the public. Some Members considered that the existing practice provided a proper meeting environment for views to be mediated and resolved through discussions. They were concerned that opening up the Subcommittee meetings would restrict the room for negotiation and result in more lobbying on individual Members before meetings. On the other hand, some Members considered that given the role of the Council under the EIA Ordinance, discussions of EIA reports by the Subcommittee were indeed part of the public participation process and hence should be opened to the public.

Practices of other government boards and committees

6. At present, there are about 600 committees advising Government on a broad spectrum of issues and/or performing specific functions. According to Home Affairs Bureau's records, about 19% of these bodies open up all their meetings to the public while 2% open up only those meetings that their members consider to be appropriate for opening up. Most of these are areas committees and district fight crime committees set up to advise Government on district matters. The list of these bodies is at Annex B.

7. Some major government committees that are set up to advise Government on policy issues, such as the Social Welfare Advisory Committee, the Transport Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on Food and Environmental Hygiene, the Elderly Commission, the Women's Commission, the Energy Advisory Committee, the Labour Advisory Board, and the Town Planning Board, hold their meetings behind closed doors. For those bodies that hold their meetings behind closed doors, most of them have adopted other measures to enhance transparency. These measures include making available to the public background information about the board or committee itself (e.g. the terms of reference and membership etc.), releasing the agendas/papers/records of meetings upon request and issuing press release and/or holding press briefings after each meeting.

Physical arrangements

8. If the meetings of the Council and/or its EIA Subcommittee are to be opened to the public, we would need to consider the logistics. The conference room currently used for holding the Council's meetings is limited in space. 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. If the meetings of the Council or its EIA Subcommittee are to be opened up, a possible option is to set aside a small area at one end of the conference room for the observers. We estimate that around 8 to 10 persons can be accommodated at any one time.

Advice sought

9. Members are invited to consider whether the meetings of the Council and the EIA Subcommittee should be opened to the public. ACE Secretariat
March 2003

 


Annex A

Measures adopted by ACE to enhance transparency

Currently, members of the public have access to matters related to the Council through the following means -

(a) the Internet - Council's membership, terms of reference, agendas, papers (other than classified papers the number of which is very small) and confirmed minutes of meetings are available from the homepage of the Environment, Transport and Works Bureau (http:/www.info.gov.hk/etwb). The public may also use the Suggestion Box in the homepage to enquire about matters related to the Council; and

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

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

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

 

 

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