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SCA: EAC to submit interim report in early November

Following is the transcript of a stand-up briefing given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after he has attended the Legislative Council meeting this (October 27) evening (English only):

Reporter: On the one hand, you were against the (setting up of the) commission of inquiry. On the other hand, you apologised. What are you apologising for?

SCA: Electoral arrangements under the laws of Hong Kong are the responsibilities of the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) and the Registration and Electoral Office (REO). But since election is part of the policy portfolio of the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB), for the administrative inadequacies concerning the electoral arrangements for the 2004 Legislative Council (LegCo) election, I wish to apologise to the public for such inadequacies and the disappointment associated with these.

In the meantime, the EAC is preparing an interim report on the administrative inadequacies which happened on the day. This report will be submitted to the Chief Executive within the first part of November, and thereafter we will make public this report, and we will also announce a series of measures which we intend to take.

Reporter: .....not having enough ballot boxes to put ballots in ... too many ballots for the number of boxes; having used barbecue forks to stick the ballots up? These are not people would normally call "administrative inadequacies".

SCA: These inadequacies are being examined by the EAC thoroughly and methodically. I would suggest that we await the publication of the report prepared by the EAC before we cast any further judgement on its findings.

Reporter: We are not casting any judgement on its findings. The question is actually what happened on the day and we know for example that there was a very long wait and there were even some places where the ballots were not counted until two days later. Is all this going to be addressed and explained in this interim report that will come out in early November?

SCA: All ballots were counted and the results of this September election for the third term Legislative Council were completed on September 13 before noon. And the electoral results were announced before noon. So this time round, the EAC will continue to conduct its investigation. In November, it will submit an interim report to the Chief Executive and in December a final report.

Reporter: You began by saying that your job is policy, the EAC is supported by the REO. Are you essentially putting an "air" between yourself and them?

SCA: Actually the statutory provision is that the EAC should operate as an independent statutory authority responsible for the management and conduct of elections in Hong Kong. The REO is established to provide administrative and executive support to the EAC. It is by statutory design that the EAC is an independent authority free from interference from any particular party including the Government.

Reporter: Are you shifting blame?

SCA: I am conducting my work entirely in accordance with the policy responsibilities of the CAB. We have put forth proposals relating to the 2004 elections, for example, the 10 dollars per vote financial assistance scheme, and the distribution of seats with regard to the five geographical constituencies. All these (arrangements) have been enacted into law in the course of 2003. And, thereafter, it is for the EAC supported by the REO to implement the electoral arrangements.

Reporter: Will these problems affect any arrangements for 2007 and 2008(elections)?

SCA: We will make a thorough review on the basis of the report to be submitted by the EAC and we will do our very best to ensure that the electoral arrangements for 2007 and 2008 are smooth and effective.

Reporter: Better than the last one?

SCA: We certainly hope so. We certainly hope to continue to make improvements.

Reporter: The administration has spent a lot of money in handling the LegCo election and also employed a lot of presiding officers, so will you say that this kind of technical problems, or what we call the human errors are in fact unacceptable?

SCA: I would say that all the civil servants who took part in the September LegCo election have done their very best particularly the presiding officers and their colleagues who manned the individual polling stations. They have worked very hard and very effectively in difficult circumstances. What the EAC is now reviewing is how the administrative deficiencies occurred on the day. But, on the whole up till now, the assessment is that the fair and open electoral system, that particular principle, has not been eroded. We will certainly do whatever is necessary to improve the electoral arrangements for the future.

Ends/Wednesday, October 27, 2004