The job of the district councillor is often misunderstood or even dismissed as a useless position filled by people who do nothing more than argue about politics. But speaking to the councillors themselves reveals a very different picture. Southern District councillors are focusing efforts on the south island MTR line, as well as dealing with problems in their own constituencies.
Lo Kin-hei of the Democratic Party represents a small but densely populated district consisting of five residential buildings. "Most of my work is handling casework. People come to me with everyday, personal problems. There are also community and social issues, like the MTR [building work]. Large organisations often look at problems from a professional point of view and neglect the local issues. We provide feedback about these 'user experiences' to such organisations."
When it comes to political issues, Lo says: "We don't really have much political wrangling. When it comes to local issues, we can cooperate fairly well with the pro-Beijing camp. And even if we do disagree, we can keep the focus on the issues. I don't think our political affiliations should affect our working relationship when it comes to local issues."
A relative newcomer to the political scene with less than a complete four-year term under her belt, Judy Chan Kapui of the New People's Party says their jobs are important and hugely varied.
"It's tough work and there is a busy schedule. My constituency is a small area and a close-knit neighbourhood. The residents feel you should be available and have a presence in the area."
Chan describes her role as one of a middleman, a facilitator or coordinator. "Resolving issues involves a lot of communication. For example, a transport issue would involve communication with the Transport Department, the bus companies and the MTR."
Fergus Fung Se-goun of the Liberal Party agrees that communication is key. "You serve the community. The community of course includes the residents, but also involves other stakeholders. You have to strike the right balance between these stakeholders. There are schools, hospitals, the MTR and the various government departments. We are also the main communication bridge between these stakeholders."
One of the challenges Fung faces is the sheer size of his area. The Bays Area includes Repulse Bay, Deep Water Bay and Chung Hom Kok. Its size makes it hard to rent an office, and having a car is essential.
"My area has Li Ka-shing in it, but there's also a bunch of grassroots villages," Fung says. "They require my services even more, and with very basic things like sewage and streetlights ... things you would think a modern city like Hong Kong has. But the villages need these necessities."
The chairman of the Southern District Council, Chu Ching-hong, says it's a full-time job. "I meet the public, attend the various sub-committee meetings and Legislative Council meetings. There are also outreach and public relations trips. I once had to speak as a guest at five different events on a Mid-Autumn Festival night. And there are the normal cases of grievances, family difficulties, rent disputes and even legal aid."
A major issue Chu has to handle is transport. "There is a great deal of traffic in the Southern District. Ocean Park is [there], and there are many international schools [in the area]. All this causes severe traffic jams," he says. "The fact that the district has no MTR line and relies largely on the Aberdeen tunnel only makes it worse. It's just poor urban planning."
Morgan Lam Kai-fai, an experienced councillor who has served four terms, believes his responsibilities can be split into two. "A councillor should handle local affairs and reflect the opinions of their constituents to the government. The second level is the general well-being of those outside of my own constituency."
Lam explains his work and the meetings he attends. His duties can range from small projects like starting and managing a local orchestra to issues like urban planning and even pushing for the construction of the south island MTR line, something he is particularly proud of. "It took more than 10 years, but now victory is in sight."