The Tug-of-war between Local Communities and the Administration: Bureaucratic Responsiveness on Waste-related Infrastructure Projects


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date20 Jun 2019


In the context of waste management in Hong Kong, the city is at the crossroads when dealing with the imminent waste crisis. The administration has been mapping out different targets, action plans, and timetables to resolve the waste management problems.

The three existing landfills are now the only disposal points for the solid waste generated in the territory, and unfortunately their design capacities will be used up one by one on or before 2020. Hence, to cope with the problem in long run, the administration proposed to have more waste facilities sited in various parts of Hong Kong, including the extension of existing landfills and the Integrated Waste Management Facilities.

Over the years, the administration understood that the proposed waste facilities are extremely controversial due to their unpleasant and sensitive nature, and clearly knew that the lawmakers and local communities will have divided opinions against them. In light of this, the government wished to engage various stakeholders and different sectors of the community in a rational and pragmatic manner, so as to gain legitimacy and public acceptance before the siting was materialised.

Continuous public involvement can be seen during the planning and development stages of the projects. For instance, public consultation and engagement exercises were rolled out for gauging diversified public views and concerns. In the meantime, government officials responded to numerous issues, ranging from political matters to local concerns.

This research examines bureaucratic responsiveness by making use of the most recent and controversial siting cases. The core question of the study would therefore be the understanding on how bureaucrats responded to the public and the underlying factors that affected their responsiveness.

Through applying the principal agent theory and resource dependence theory, a conceptual framework was proposed by the author to study how the attributes affected bureaucratic responsiveness as well as the policy outcomes. The research can then help explain the responsiveness from both endogenous and exogenous dimensions.

After all, a holistic view of the theoretical attributes can be figured out when qualitative data were collected by interviewing representatives of bureaucratic agencies and triangulating readily available information in the public domain such as discussion papers, press releases, and recorded programmes.

In gist, the author discovered that, of the attributes in concern some of them had a critical role to play in the selected siting cases. From the principal agent perspective, “government interest and incentive” and “bureaucratic resources and power” had contributed stronger effects on bureaucratic responsiveness for deriving success of siting new facilities, whilst “information asymmetry”, which was originally believed to be influential, had less direct impact on the siting cases. From the resource dependence perspective, the attributes namely “bureaucratic perception and knowledge”, “external resources”, and “interdependence with external groups”, had influenced bureaucratic responsiveness from different ways and extents simultaneously. They had also coerced the government to react and coordinate different types of resources.

Lastly, the author believes that the major contributions of this research is to help expand the empirical literature on bureaucratic responsiveness on siting unwelcomed facilities, offer insights on siting locally unwanted facilities, and could be used as reference material that helps government officials at all levels to prepare responses appropriately and develop viable plans to achieve the desired policy outcomes.