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Hong Kong’s ‘area committees’ are duplicating the work of district councils, but without democrats

Hong Kong’s district-based and unelected “area committees” have been granted votes to elect the city’s leader, but an Apple Daily investigation has found the groups are mostly concerned with low-level community issues such as dog poop and rat infestations.

Area committees are little-known bodies in Hong Kong, and some districts only established them in the wake of Beijing’s recent electoral overhaul for the city. Unlike the popularly elected district councilors, members of area committees are appointed by the government.

Under Beijing’s new blueprint, the Election Committee — responsible for selecting the city’s chief executive — excluded members of district councils, who are predominantly pro-democracy politicians. Those seats were filled by members from area committees, and district fire safety and crime prevention committees.

One of the newly formed area committees, the Lung Shan Area Committee, convened on May 12 to discuss the design problems of a roundabout near Fook On Building. The group also discussed the problem of abandoned cars on private premises, improving street cleanliness and adding disposal boxes for dog poop.

On May 26, the Tai Po South Area Committee — also newly set up in March — discussed the issue of illegal parking, speeding and rat infestations.

Apple Daily found that similar problems had been discussed at the Tai Po District Council, raising the question of whether the area committees are redundant.

Yiu Ming, vice-chair of the Lung Shan Area Committee, told Apple Daily that area committees have “more diverse voices” compared to district councils. Yiu is a member of the pro-Beijing DAB party, and used to be a district councilor before losing his seat in 2019 due to the landslide victory of the pro-democracy camp.

District councils are not representative because they are filled with democrats, said Clement Woo, another DAB member and the chairperson of the Tai Po South Area Committee. He also lost his district council seat in 2019.

“The composition [of area committees] is a form of broad representation, as it represents different sectors. This cannot be achieved via a one-person-one-vote election,” Woo said.

Their claims were rejected by pro-democracy District Councilor Ken Lau, who said it was “absurd” for the non-democratic area committee to be able to vote for the chief executive while district councilors cannot.

The pro-Beijing camp only complained about the district council after they lost their seats in 2019, Lau said. “Why didn’t they speak up before? The [pro-Beijing camp] had been in charge for so many years, why do they only bring it up now?”

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