Neighbourhood associations in a new town: the mutual aid committees in Shatin

AuthorJones, John Finbar


TitleNeighbourhood associations in a new town: the mutual aid committees in Shatin
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateAugust, 1978

Community centers

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:We have indentified some major neighborhood association in Shatin and briefly discussed their structure, service and interorganizational relations. Among these neighborhood associations, the Mutual Aid Committees were chosen for analysis to permit a more in-depth understanding of the relationship of primary groups to secondary, bureaucratic institutions. In this report, the Mutual Aid Committee’s historical development, objectives and activities were explored, followed by some evaluation of public reaction to the MACs. The empirical study of Mutual Aid Committees in Shatin disclosed that the committee’s member generally responded positively to the questions related to their MACs’ effectiveness, autonomy, and satisfaction. However, some questions arose from the analysis which deserve further exploration.

On perceptions of MAC effectiveness, one might ask what are the factors contributing to the inconsistent answers on what members think is important and what they do. The inconsistency suggests that the goal attainment of the MACs should be assessed more objectively. Also, why quite a number of respondents (45.9%) said they had little or no sense of task accomplishment deserves further investigation. Finally, it sounds strange that 53 respondents said that they did not have conflicts or even disagreement with Governments. Can this be a reality for two organizations that have so frequent and constant contact? What are the reasons underlying such an answer given by the respondents? Two approaches are suggested to validate the respondents’ opinions. One is an analysis of the activities of the organization on a factual basis; the other is to collect from the service recipients of the organization.

On the MACs’ autonomy, it was noted that while 96.7% of the respondents said that all of the MAC members were elected by the residents, 62.4% of them in answering another question pointed put that the resident representatives (candidates in the election ) were selected by the Shatin district Office. The question is: since a large number of the MACs’ members were “selected” by the District Office and then “elected” by the residents, can the MACs be called independent organization? A related question is: if the MACs’ policies and objectives are “proposed” by another organization and “approved” by the MAC members, can the process be defines as “independent decision-making”? An examination of one MAC constitution demonstrated that the contents of the constitution were mostly the same as the “sample constitution” proposed by the District Office of Shatin and that the existence of the MAC was legally sanctioned by the chairmen were similar to each other, it is doubtful that MACs under study were really autonomous. Their very existence is at the pleasure of the Government, and their operating procedures are those proposed by the authorities.

The respondents were found to be generally satisfied with what they were doing in the MAC. A large number of them liked their work in the MAC, rated their work in the MAC as important, felt happy about participating in the MAC, and felt that they were recognized by the people and the Government as well.

Citizen participation is not a new concept to the people of Hong Kong. Its meaning, however, is somewhat ambiguous due to Hong Kong’s unique political situation. In this regard, Professor Endacott had the following observations:

An examination of the working of the Hong Kong constitution shows interested opinion is consulted continuously prior to any important…the general public at large is invited to express its views. Indeed, consultation as practiced by the Government is so extensive that the term “government by discussion” aptly describes one of its leading characteristics.

If “government by discussion” is leading characteristics of the politics if Hong Kong, perhaps “participation through discussion” can be sees as another distinct feature. In Hong Kong, citizens are frequently invited to give comments and recommendations on certain government policies and there are platforms for public debate on social issues. But participation in discussion is obviously different form participation in policy-making and the latter lies completely in the hands of the Government. This form of participation is different from those practiced in the western democratic and can only be understood in the local political context.

Citizen participation, viewed in this way, has been elicited by the Government of Hong Kong. A number of Machineries for participation established by the Government can be identified: the Executive Council, Legislative Council, Urban Council, Advisory Committees City District Office, and New Territories Administration. The Executive Council advises the Governor on all matters of importance: apart from certain executive functions, it examines all government legislation before it is introduced into the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council enacts legislation and controls the expenditure of public funds. The Urban Council deals with environmental hygiene, public health, city cleaning, hawkers, markets and recreational and cultural activities. The Advisory Committees advise Government on all aspects of public administration, and, finally, the City District Office and New Territories Administration are government departments established to assess the impact of contemplated new policies, explain adopted policies to the public, and report on trends of public opinion in the districts.

Other than these Government bodies, the Government also stimulates citizen groups to participate in community affairs and contribute to the betterment of the community. The Kaifong Welfare Association was the earliest type of neighborhood organizations encouraged by the Government to provide welfare and relief for residents of a particular neighborhood and serve as a bridge between the Government and ordinary citizens. Another form of voluntary association initiated and pushed by the Government was the Mutual Aid Committee which aimed at the promotion of the Clean Hong Kong Campaign, the Fight Violent Campaign, and better management within the multi-storey building where the particular Mutual Aid Committee is located. An examination of the activities of the Kaifong Welfare Associations and Mutual Aid Committees indicated that their work are, to a great extent, influenced by the Government. In their Kaifong study, Chia-Chien Hu and Aline K. Wong pointed out that Kaifongs concentrated on rather passive endeavours and relief work in the beginning. In the early 60’, they shifted their attention to community development, with emphasis on special youth activities, public recreation and popular educational classes. Later, they became more active in playing the role as an intermediary between Government and people. These changing functions of the Kaifong Welfare Assocations, according to Hu and Wong, “must be taken as having been influenced by the changes in Government policies.” The Mutual Aid Committees are legally sanctioned by the Government. The MACs must fulfil the legal requirement for registration, i.e., exemption from registration as societies under the Societies Ordinance provided they were approved by the New Territories Administration when outside the Urban area. They will be automatically dissolved if the exemption from registration as societies is withdraw by the Government. In addition, most of the MACs have adopted the Government-sponsored objectives. In some instances, frustration, dissatisfaction and disappointment occurred when citizens utilized the MACs to achieve independent goal rather than the objectives set forth by the Government. Alongside the government-sponsored participation, grassroot involvement in protesting government policies seems to have increased in recent years. The Blind Workers’ Strike, the relocation of the Yaumatei Typhoon Shelter Boat Squatters, the Anti-dust and Blasting Campaign in Tai Wan Shan, the Bathroom Doors protest in Tung Tau Estate, the Toilet Sanitation Protest in Tai Hang Tung, and the recent demonstrations against public housing rent policy are just a few instances of community action. Residents in these cases used various strategies such as strikes refusal to move, marches, mass meetings, sit-ins, sleep-ins, campaigns, petitions, press conferences, etc., to express their grievances and bring them to the attention of the Government and the general public. Neither the government-sponsored involvement nor grassroot protest seem to be ideal strategies for increasing citizen participation. The government-sponsored participation in which citizens usually play the roles of on advisory boards or committees does not mean genuine citizen participation in the determination and implementation of social policies. The grassroot protest which is usually organized on a short-term or ad hoc basis can have some effects on certain government decisions. However, this approach can contribute little to comprehensive planning with far reaching effects. In terms of community development, the emphasis should be on the development of peoples’ potential and problem-solving capacities, and this is more likely to be achieved in well-structured grsaaroot organization with both short-term and long-term objectives.

Viewing the general situation of citizen participation as a whole, the “balance theory’ suggests an alternative which may help in building a participation model that is more acceptable in the social and political context of Hong Kong. This theory as discussed in Chapter One assumes that both the bureaucracy and citizen groups have legitimate spheres of influence, are individually capable of performing certain task but must collaborate in the public domain to achieve other common social goals. The assumption is that both parties should recognize they have their own roles to play and their collaboration must be based on mutual respect for each other. In this connection, the building of autonomous, self-help citizen organizations at the grassroot level, the development of indigenous leadership, and the effective use of local resources can begin to contribute to government-community participation and cooperation in the social development of Hong Kong.

NoteIncludes bibliographical references
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