Seven: Government institutions and policy priorities


It goes without saying that government is vital to sustainable development. This is as at least as true in Hong Kong and the rest of China as it is in more democratic societies where nongovernmental actors have a bigger role. Progress toward sustainable development is certainly easier if there is good will from policy makers and expertise from officials concerned about promoting the public welfare. Equally important—arguably much more important in Hong Kong—is the nature of the political system. If the political system is designed to be deferential toward special interests, achieving sustainability, which by definition requires change, becomes very difficult. Regardless of which sustainability issue we consider, policy making can only be explained if we can consider vested interests that influence the government’s behaviour. For example, measures to improve Hong Kong’s air quality might require the use of more expensive fuels, thereby increasing costs for commercial operators of buses, trucks and ships. Once we understand that transportation companies and operators control the Transport ‘functional constituency’ seat in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco), we begin to see why it is so hard for the Hong Kong government to adopt measures requiring commercial vehicles to pollute less. Businesses’ influence on government also stifles environmental policies in other areas.

The type of political system is important for the quality of governance. A government in which officials typically believe that they should minimise community involvement in decision making and keep information from public scrutiny is likely to make quite different decisions to those made by one that believes in transparency, accountability and genuine consultation.

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