Opening up ACE Meetings to the Public (without Annexes)
(ACE Paper 22/2000)
For information by circulation
This paper sets out the points to be considered if meetings of the Advisory Council on the Environment (ACE) were to be open to members of the public.
2.On 22 May 2000, Friends of the Earth issued a press release urging, inter alia, that ACE should become transparent and welcome the public to its meetings. A copy of the press release is at Annex A.
3.The issue of whether ACE meetings should be open to members of the public has been discussed before. The last discussion took place at the 51st meeting held on 18 May 1998. It was concluded then that ACE meetings should not be open to the public but that minutes of its meetings should be made available through the internet. An extract of the minutes is at Annex B.
4.The following channels currently provide public access to matters relating to ACE :
through the internet - ACE membership, terms of reference, agendas, papers (other than classified papers of which there are very few) and confirmed minutes of meetings (with members' names struck out) 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 Environment and Food Bureau homepage to enquire about ACE matters; and
through media briefings - after each meeting, the Chairman accompanied by the Secretary meet the media and brief them on subjects discussed during the meeting, the main points raised, and the conclusions reached. A Question & Answer session follows the briefing. ACE papers are made available to the media at the briefings.
5.Opening up ACE meetings to the public would enhance transparency and enable interested members of the public to observe how ACE meetings are conducted. This could enhance public awareness of environmental issues and serve a public education purpose. In practice, we believe that only the media are likely to attend the meetings regularly.
6. On the other hand, opening up meetings could inhibit discussion, particularly of controversial issues and constrain members from giving their views freely. It is also likely that the discussion may become more politicized.
7.At present, minutes of ACE meetings available on the internet do not make reference to individual members. If ACE meetings were open to the public, this practice would become meaningless.
8.The conference room in the Environment and Food Bureau can accommodate only a few spectators (probably about five, depending on the number of individuals attending for the discussion of specific items). If members decide that ACE meetings should be open to the public, we will either have to limit the number of spectators or find an alternative venue. We will also need to draw up guidelines on how to entertain requests to attend and rules of behaviour for attendees.
9.Members are invited to give their views on whether meetings of ACE should be open to members of the public.
Environment and Food Bureau