Each of Hong Kong's 18 administrative districts has its own special features and characteristics. It is, though, the job of the Home Affairs Department to maintain the well-being of these distinct communities and to ensure that appropriate help is at hand whenever needed.
"Anything related to the people within a district is our business and part of that is to assist with administration," says Paul Fung, senior liaison officer for the department's Yau Tsim Mong district office. "Each office also works closely with the local district council to facilitate enhancements and deal with any potential problems in such things as building maintenance, cleanliness and dangerous street signage."
One of Mr Fung's major tasks is giving advice and lending a hand with the formation and servicing of owners' corporations (OCs). At present, Yau Tsim Mong has the largest number of OCs and mutual aid committees (MACs) in Hong Kong, with over 1,240 OCs and 430 MACs for the roughly 3,000 buildings in the district.
"Here we have an interesting combination of very old and very modern buildings, which gives the district many different faces," Mr Fung says. "However, the variety of expectations that brings can make our jobs challenging. Younger or more educated people may see an OC as very worthwhile, but some of the older people, who tend to live in the older buildings, think otherwise."
To maintain close links with the OCs, liaison officers from the district office take part in regular meetings with the committees and arrange patrols during the month to keep a general eye on things.
"Also, when dealing with building management and safety, we are expected to be familiar with the Building Management Ordinance," Mr Fung explains. The procedures followed and motions passed during an OC meeting, as well as any advice given by the district office, must abide by the provisions of the ordinance.
In response to changes in the community, the department also shifts its focus from time to time. This calls for assistance and cooperation, which means that building good relationships and rapport with the associations and organisations in the district is an ongoing responsibility. "We can never expect to take care of everything on our own," Mr Fung explains. "It is of paramount importance to have the public's support and participation in implementing the district administration."
Within the sprawling Yau Tsim Mong district, you will find new immigrants from mainland China in Tai Kok Tsui and, in Tsim Sha Tsui, ethnic minorities such as Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese. "That is why good communication skills are vital," Mr Fung stresses.
In his nearly 26 years with the government, he has worked in a number of districts and has found that there is no such thing as a typical day. "We don't follow a fixed work schedule because we're dealing with district matters," he says. "There are always community activities and unexpected incidents."
For example, whenever there is a public event or an election, the department will offer assistance to the organisers and help to encourage participation by people in the district.
Mr Fung points out that, since the job is multi-faceted, it requires a certain level of flexibility and knowledge of local precedent. For instance, officers handling matters in the New Territories, including succession and trustee cases and the election of village representatives, can find them very challenging. In his opinion, though, dealing with people who may have widely different views helps to broaden one's own perspective and develop new competencies.
During the SARS outbreak and again after the Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago, the department deployed staff to keep in touch with and offer assistance to members of the victims' families. "Incidents like this, as well as the Garley Building fire in 1996, require prompt action and a practical response," Mr Fung says.
In the case of any emergency, a district office acts as an intermediary, as well as a source of information. For example, it will set up a helpdesk at a hospital if there has been a major accident, so that people can get updates and assistance without having to go directly to the hospital authorities or medical professionals. "Also, if there was a fire, we might be involved in operating a relief centre, opening temporary shelters and administering an emergency fund for the victims," Mr Fung notes.
For some of these tasks, close cooperation with other government bodies and NGOs is essential. "If it is an issue of building management and maintenance, we might have to work with the Housing Department, the Buildings Department, the Fire Department, and even the police," he explains. "Law enforcement is an aspect we always have to consider."