By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
Despite the expected roll out of a set of guidelines for all public departments to follow when holding public consultations, a local scholar said the Government’s responses to opinions will play a more important role in satisfying the public demand.
The Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau (SAFP) has launched the first draft of “The Normative Guidelines for Public Policy Consultations”, which aims to standardise the consultations staged by different departments.
It is also proposed that a summary report must have to be completed and announced to the public within 90 days after the end of a policy consultation. An internal agency may also be formed to coordinate, review and follow-up all consultation plans.
Eilo Yu Wing Yat, an assistant professor and the program coordinator of public administration at the University of Macau, told the Macau Daily Times yesterday that the guidelines are more on a “technical level” and do not include any rules concerning the planning of policy.
However, Yu pointed out that the 90-day deadline to hand in a summary report is an “improvement” and has increased the transparency of the Government, “since the public were unable to learn about the consultation results in the past”.
Nevertheless, the scholar stressed that after such a report is released, the ways in which the Government reacts to the public opinions or demands is “even more crucial”.
“A report can at least show to the public what opinions the Government has listened to or what conclusion it has made. If the reports can be done properly, they should be able to meet the public needs to a large extent,” he added.
Yu also hoped that the Government can in the future introduce a “more accurate timetable or planning” for public consultations.
In regard to the setting up of an internal coordinating agency, the scholar said he will doubt its effectiveness, pointing out that public departments are still facing “a lot of obstacles and challenges” when it comes to cross-departmental cooperation.
Such a coordinating agency can let the public know what policies the Government is going to roll out in the future, but Yu said the problem is nowadays the public consultations were usually held “very rapidly”.
“A department already needs to take care of its internal coordination, so it’ll be even more difficult for them to also coordinate with a number of different departments,” he told the MDT.
“How can the Government use one agency to coordinate the consultation plans of more than 40 public departments? It’s extremely difficult and full of challenges for the Macau Government at this stage,” he added.
What’s gone wrong?
Yu said sometimes after a consultation document is released, whether it’s through the Government website, media or newspapers, the Government will deem that the public consultation has already been carried out.
“It is a one-sided communication. Some people may not be aware of it or the consultation method can’t attract people’s attention and thus after the policy is confirmed they will think there are many problems,” he said.
The scholar urged the Government to be “more proactive in communicating with the stakeholders” who will be directly or indirectly affected by the new policy and asking for their comments.
“Even if these people or organisations oppose the policy, they won’t criticise the Government for not having consulted their opinions,” he pointed out.
According to Yu, during the consultation process the public may not be very enthusiastic and they will usually show more interests or concerns after some suggestions or policies are introduced.
“If the stakeholders are not satisfied with the policy, they may initiate a discussion in society which can then stimulate other people to express their opinions and also participate more in the process. It’ll be a more interactive communication,” he added.
On the other hand, political commentator Larry So Man Yum believed that the 90-day deadline is “justified and not too long”.
So told the MDT that the Government Information Bureau or the Government Spokesperson’s Office can be the suitable agency to coordinate and oversee different departments’ consultation plans.
The political commentator also said that nowadays public departments are “unable to coordinate with each other” and a number of them may launch a public consultation at the same time.
In addition, he pointed out that the Government should “diversify the consultation targets and not only listen to the traditional social organisations’ opinions most of the time”.