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Case study Reclaiming land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor The Public Demands a Voice

Case study Reclaiming land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor The Public Demands a Voice

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Case study: Reclaiming land from Hong Kong‟s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice I.

Overview of the case Through the years Hong Kong‟s economy and population have been growing in a rapid pace. During the British rule the executive-led model of decision making reigned and a whole generation was raised in an environment where there was little space for civic involvement in policy making.1 Prior to the handover of Hong Kong to China some measures were introduced to allow some more democratic mechanism that would act as a checks and balance on the executive-led government.2 To foster the economic growth, the executive-led authorities of Hong Kong explored ways to expand its land surface and further spur economic growth through investments in infrastructure and residential and commercial real estates. A dispute between the Government and civil society organizations about the extent of the reclamation of Victoria Harbor emerged and impacted the primacy of policy making in Hong Kong. The case study shows how the Hong Kong Government indicated it was willing to make initial steps towards moving away from a view of the issue of reclamation as a competitive issue to one of a common problem. The solution of such a common problem would be in finding a balance between environmental protection and urban development.3 The quest to such a solution should occur through a process that is perceived as fair, transparent and participatory by the nongovernment stakeholders. In order to achieve such a status it is important that the Government changes its perspective of unilaterally deciding what is good for the country to actually moving to a modus of operandi that not only informs the public about its plans but allows for meaningful engagement that involves consultation in the policy making process. II. Sequence of events with an eye on the transformation of Hong Kong to a more open government4 The reclamation of the Victoria Harbor had been taking place for years. Besides spurring economic development, the reclamation has also been a major revenue source for the Hong Kong Government. Already in 1983, the Government identified the need to reclaim even more of the Victoria Harbor to accommodate vital investments in Hong Kong‟s infrastructure. The implementation of the reclamation started in 1993 and significant progress was already made in 1998. Prior to the completion of the first two phases in 1998, the public‟s attitude towards reclamation started to shift. The shift was one from regarding reclamation as a public good to one in which the preservation of Victoria Harbor became a public good. Instrumental in this shift was the work of an advocacy group (Society for the Protection of the Harbor, SPH) which had the aim to protect Victoria Harbor from any unnecessary reclamation.

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Accountability in Hong Kong Transiting from Colony to Democracy, Thomas S. Axworthy and Herman B. Leonard, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan035102.pdf 2 Decision making was primarily confined to the discretion of the executive branch though in 1995 more accountability was introduced through the establishment of the Legislative Council (LegCo). The main function of the LegCo was “to review and approve budgets and public expenditures, and monitor the work of the government.” Susan Rosegrant, Kennedy School of Government Case Program, Reclaiming Land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice. J.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 3-4. 3 K. W. Thomas, “Conflict and Conflict Management”, in M. D. Dunette (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976, pp. 889-935 4 With an open government is meant a government that is “more accessible, responsive and transparent in its operations.” OECD, Open Government, Paris: OECD, 2003, p.21. T. Doherty and T. Horne, Managing public services, Chapter 6 “Managing groups and leading teams in public services”, London: Routledge, 2002, 167-203

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Phase 1: Increased access to information but primacy on policy making The arrival of an advocacy group such as SPH meant that the executive-led Government was confronted with an opponent to its policies. The SPH‟s approach towards advocating for a change in government policies was one of developing alternative approaches to the planned reclamation. In this phase civil society and the Government were opposed to each other and the government regarded SPH‟s activities as detrimental to the Government‟s interest and thus the general public‟s interest. The government responded to the opposition by sharing more information about its plans with the public. Phase 2: Introduction of consultation but primacy on policy making In response to a more assertive civil society and the subsequent opposition it experienced against its proposed reclamation plan, the Government decided to allow more stakeholders to be involved in the consultation process. However, by largely ignoring the issues raised during the consultation phase it only did so halfheartedly and it did not give an organization such SPH the impression that the government was serious in reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. Faced with a zero-sum game situation, the SPH saw itself forced to undertake legal action which it ended up winning.5 Phase 3: Opportunities for participation in policy making The legal defeat by the Government spurred the Government to explore ways to increase participation in decision-making. It did so through the establishment of an Advisory Committee called the Harbor-front Enhancement Committee (HFEC) that was to “better involve the public in the task of designing the waterfront.”6 The 30-head counting advisory committee, which consisted of government representatives and members of civil society, was a new kind of partnership and was to work together and reach consensus on the future of the Victoria Harbor front. III. Causes of Problem: An open Government on paper does not mean one in practice The above-described sequence of events shows how the Government became gradually more adaptive and designed measures for greater public participation through the creation of the HFEC and by informing the general public better about its intensions with the waterfront. The Government thus created mechanism to enhance measures for information, consultation and active participation in policy making. This indicated that some progress was made in transforming the Hong Kong Government‟s executive-led style of policy making to a gradually more open form of government that allowed for more involvement in policy making from external stakeholders such as civil society organizations and other stakeholders. However, in the eyes of civil society it only did so halfheartedly. Among civil society organizations the fear existed that the government was not looking for true participation and that it continued to regard civil society as an opponent instead of a partner. In that light, the establishment of the HFEC could even be regarded as a ploy to hush any opposition. One incident that reinforced this perception among members of civil society was the public release of reclamation plans that were claimed to be vetted by the advisory committee. However, the HFEC never did approve those plans and it reinforced the perception among opponents of the
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The strategic contingency theory is helpful in explaining why the government pushed through with its planned despite strong opposition. Based on legal council it felt it was within its right and as such it ignored its earlier commitment to work closer together with other stakeholders. 6 Susan Rosegrant, Kennedy School of Government Case Program, Reclaiming Land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice. J.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. P.13.

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reclamation that the HFEC was being used by the Hong Kong authorities to gain legitimacy for its own plans. The Government also seemed to be unwilling to review its original reclamation plans and continued to put proposals on the table of the new partnership that did not indicate it was actually willing to find a mutually agreeable solution. So the Government continued to exhibit a competitive orientation which “represents a desire to win one’s own concerns at the other’s expense.”7 Fed by the previous experience in dealing with the Government this reinforced the perception among some civil society organizations that the Hong Kong Government was not seriously pursuing a partnership. Evidence of this was an observation of one of members of the antireclamation movement on his expectation on how the government will deal with alternative views on reclamation: “They are going to do everything they can to ignore us and to show us up”.8 The Government had expressed its willingness to move towards “a new partnership” that would enable all stakeholders to “find consensus”.9 It seemed that some difference in perception existed about the role of the new partnerships as to whether it would allow active participation or active consultation. As noted by the OECD active participation is rare and in an executive-led government system such as Hong Kong this might potentially undermine the Government‟s primacy of decision making.10 Nonetheless to engage the public through involving them actively in the consultation phase progress can be made towards a more open form of government. However the problem is that to reach such a stage, a sense of trust among partners needs to be established. Related to this is the need to have an extent of similar expectations about the role of Advisory Committees. As long as perceptions are fed that one of the parties is not truly willing to find a consensus and collaborate, a real partnership is unconceivable. As long as this is the case a true shift from an executive-led policy making style to a more open government form of policy making cannot be made. IV. Solution and Implementation For the Hong Kong Government to truly adopt elements of the open government form it needs to be aware that conflicts (read difference in views on policy directions) are not to be regarded as undermining its authority nor as an attack on the Government. So it needs to prevent to look at conflicts as an us (the Government) versus them (civil society). Secondly, the government should not regard conflicts over its planned policies as “deviant behavior that needs to be controlled”11 and be aware that a more open form of government needs to establish greater flexibility and “avoid premature commitments to a given set of objectives”.12

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K. W. Thomas, “Conflict and Conflict Management”, in M. D. Dunette (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976, p.891 8 Susan Rosegrant, Kennedy School of Government Case Program, Reclaiming Land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice. J.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. P.15. 9 Susan Rosegrant, Kennedy School of Government Case Program, Reclaiming Land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice. J.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. P.14.
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OECD, Open Government, Paris: OECD, 2003, p.15 Doherty and T. Horne, Managing public services, Chapter 6 “Managing Groups And Leading Teams In Public Services”, London: Routledge, 2002, p.182 12 Hal G. Rainey, Understanding and Managing Public Organizations, 4th ed. John Wiley, 2009, 178-179.

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Furthermore, meaningful involvement of multiple stakeholders is not to be regarded as an erosion of the Government‟s ability to get things done but rather as an extension of its ability to get things done right. As long as conflicts are not regarded as task-related conflicts and are not dealt with in a truly collaborating or compromising way the danger exist that it will result in distorted perceptions, decrease communication and feed antagonism among the various stakeholders. The involved stakeholders should work towards a perspective that conflicts are an opportunity to find better solutions. The problem-solving journey the different stakeholders have to go through together are to follow Watson and McKersie‟s three steps of problem-solving: 1) identify the main concerns of the parties; 2) search for alternative solutions and map out the possible consequences; 3) identify the solution that is “most jointly satisfying”.13 Joint-solutions are more likely to be found if all stakeholders have reached a stage of a commonality of interest in resolving common problems. One way of doing so is through the identification of superordinate goals. An example of this could be „transforming Hong Kong into an economically vibrant green liveable sustainable city‟.14 The development of such a shared vision will bring the parties closer together and is likely to result in a better understanding of each others‟ positions.15 To complete the switch from a competing perspective on conflict management towards one of collaboration a set of ground-rules need to be established.16 These ground rules could be based on the by the OECD proposed guiding principles for successful policy making mechanism that would allow citizens to be actively involved in the in policy making process through involvement in the consultation phase.17 What the Hong Kong Government furthermore needs to do is the development of a set of minimum standards that would define the exact roles, conduct and procedures of governmentcivil society advisory committees. The to-be-developed Minimum Standards of GovernmentCivil Society Collaboration should also include mechanisms on how the committees will be facilitated, how the recommendations from the advisory committees will be brought to the attention of the decisions makers, and how the stakeholders will receive feedback on the final decision of the decision makers.18 The Minimum Standards should be the starting point for the actual formation and approval of the ground rules for each Advisory Committee. It is important that all members of Advisory Committees are involved in this. The drafting of such rules would already be a good starting point and would likely allow certain group norms to develop. An incident such as the release of
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R. E. Walton and R.B. McKersie, Behavioral Dilemmas In Mixed-Motive Decision-Making, Behavioral Science, September 1966, 11 , 370-384. As found in K. W. Thomas, “Conflict and Conflict Management”, in M. D. Dunette (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976, 904. 14 With superordinate goals is meant: “goals which are compelling and highly appealing to members of two or more groups in conflict but which cannot be attained by the resources and energies of the groups separately.” Muzafer Sherif, Superordinate Goals in the Reduction of Intergroup Conflict, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 63, No. 4. (Jan., 1958), 349-356. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-9602%28195801%2963%3A4%3C349%3ASGITRO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-6 Dr Johanna Wolf , “Motivating transitions: The possibilities and pitfalls of modifying behavior” http://www.globalcentres.org/projects/longhaul_pdfs/Wolf_Energy_transitions_and_behaviour.pdf 15 Hal G. Rainey, Understanding and Managing Public Organizations, 4th ed. John Wiley, 2009. P.379. 16 T. Doherty and T. Horne, Managing public services, Chapter 6 “Managing Groups And Leading Teams In Public Services”, London: Routledge, 2002, 167-203. 17 OECD, Open Government, Paris: OECD, 2003, 19. 18 This section is based on recommendations of Working Group 2a, “Report Of Working Group «Consultation and Participation of Civil Society»”, June 2001, White Paper on European Governance Work Area n° 2 Handling the Process of Producing and Implementing Community Rules. http://ec.europa.eu/governance/areas/group3/report_en.pdf

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documentation on behalf of a government-civil society workgroup without being vetted by all members would under such circumstances be less likely to occur. Furthermore, the development of the above-mentioned group norms is likely to “maximize the chances for task success” and “increase the predictability of group members’ behavior”.19 V. Justification The key premise of the identification of the problem and its solution is that “governments benefit from active citizens and a dynamic civil society” 20, that “civil society can be a great force in solving problems”21 and most importantly that the Government of Hong Kong is serious in developing new partnerships with civil society. The shift from a competing perspective of conflict resolution to a more optimal perspective of collaboration is possible and likely to produce higher quality solutions.22 Openness, trust and clarity of roles among the different stakeholders are pivotal as these are necessary ingredients for collaboration. Meaningful engagement can achieve this but it requires that mutual trust is established and clearly defined mutually agreed upon rules and procedures of collaboration are established and respected. The problem is that the absence or vagueness of or non-compliance to such rules and procedures can result in the transformation from a conflict as being task-related to becoming socioemotional. Such a transformation reduces the ability to manage conflicts and is likely to undermine the Hong Kong‟s Government expressed willingness to move towards a higher level of civic engagement by working “together for the benefit of the public interest.”23 The establishment of the above-mentioned jointly-developed „rules of the game‟ will contribute to a better understanding about the ways government and civil society can work together and is therefore also instrumental in the management of expectations. The management of expectations is important as it can prevent the erosion of trust in the established mechanism and in the perception of the Government‟s willingness to interact with non-government stakeholders on an equal footing. Furthermore, the clear definition of the rules and goals of to be established consultation mechanism is vital to ensure the institutionalization of government-civil society collaboration. By doing so, the Hong Kong Government will make an important step towards a more open albeit still executive-led Government that actively engages its citizens in shaping Hong Kong‟s future.

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Daniel C. Feldman, The Development and Enforcement of Group Norms, Academy of Management Review, 1984, 9 (1), 48. OECD, Open Government, Paris: OECD, 2003, 20. 21 Elaine Chan and Joseph Chan, The First Ten Years of the HKSAR: Civil Society Comes of Age, The Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration Vol. 29, no. 1 (June 2007), 95. 22 K. W. Thomas, “Conflict and Conflict Management”, in M. D. Dunette (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976, 891. 23 Susan Rosegrant, Kennedy School of Government Case Program, Reclaiming Land from Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor: The Public Demands a Voice. J.F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. 14.

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