Striking district councillors skipped the first in a new series of police-led road safety committee meetings today (27 May), barely 24 hours after one of committee member was released on bail following his arrest and alleged police beating at the weekend.
The head of Hong Kong Island’s Traffic Branch, Senior Superintendent Michael Yip Siu-ming, said he had hoped to keep “non-political” road safety work of the Traffic Accident Reduction Coordination Committee (TARCC) free of the political woes that have inflamed tensions between district councillors and police since the new councillors took office in January.
But the Sunday arrest and hospitalisation of committee member Sam Yip Kam-lung, chairman of the Central & Western District Traffic & Transport Committee, has dashed any hopes of détente.
Freshman councillor Sam Yip says if the meeting is rescheduled, he’ll be showing off his wounds, which he says were inflicted by police during his arrest and subsequent attacks by police at North Point Police Station.
“I will be glad to show my injuries to those traffic police, to show them that their colleagues harmed me so much, a district councillor responsible to deal with and supervise the police in the execution of their duties,” he says.
Even before Sam Yip’s arrest and the recent national-level political manoeuvrings that led to the “27:5” district councillor strike today, Michael Yip had said he was not optimistic of having a good relationship with the district councillors, although he very much wanted one. “If you look at the way they treat the police in the regular DC meetings, they ask police to show their warrant cards, there’s no discussion, and then police just walk out, so it’s not very promising,” he said during an interview on 8 April.
At that time, Sam Yip said the police were to blame for such tensions. “The police comment about seeking more cooperation is contradicted by their actual actions and their letters to DC members in which they tend to ‘teach’ DC members. We hope to discuss and to improve the transport and traffic order in Central and Western District with all related parties,” Sam Yip said on 21 April.
In fact, none of the four district councillors on the new TARCC committee showed up to the 3pm meeting today, cancelling yesterday without giving a reason, according to Michael Yip. Many district councillors are striking for the day to protest the government’s proposed National Anthem Law and concerns over Beijing’s plans for a National Security law for Hong Kong.
Michael Yip says the quarterly TARCC meeting is designed to cut red tape in road safety planning and in the past has been a solid forum for the chairpersons of each district’s Traffic & Transport Committee to hash out ideas and reach consensus with police and the Transport Department (TD). “It’s a community consensus way of taking forward community concerns and road safety issues,” he says.
For example, creating new restricted loading zones is much more efficient if councillors and TD can hash out broad agreement on locations before more detailed plans are drawn up, says Yip.
But Sam Yip says police are just shifting responsibility. “You can see the police keep pushing responsibility to us, not only the district council but the legislators too – and with all their manpower and firepower, they have 30,000 men in their force, there’s the issues they are disproportionally favouring over other issues and not doing their job well on the traffic problem at all.”
Michael Yip says he decided to go ahead with the meeting anyway. “We had already given them four dates for this meeting to suit their schedules… and if we reschedule now, the backup date was 4 June,” he says. “And I think they will have some activities that day too.”
The veteran traffic officer, who’s worked on community initiatives including the Hong Kong Island Dashcam Reporting Hotline, says he’s disappointed at the no-shows. “I really want to engage them, and hopefully we can work together for these non-political matters,” he says. “If we can have the possibility of some cooperation in this kind of road safety work, I’ll be more than happy to work with them.”
Other district councillors shunning the meeting, who declined to comment, were Mak King-sing, chairman of the Wan Chai District Council Development, Planning & Transport Committee, Chan Hin-chung, chairman of the Southern District Transport and Traffic Committee and Patrick Leung Siu-sun, chairman of the Eastern District Transport and Traffic Committee.
The next meeting will be scheduled for around three months from now. Sam Yip says he plans to attend. “But I am not optimistic on how police will treat me, not only in the district council but also in these committee meetings, I am not putting much hope in it but I will still execute my duty as district councillor and chairman of the traffic and transport committee for the district.”