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SCA welcomes recommendations in Independent Committee of Experts' report

Following is the transcript (English portion) of a standup briefing given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, on the Report of the Independent Committee of Experts for the Review on the Management, Planning and Conduct of Elections at Central Government Offices this afternoon (May 6):

Reporter: .... the REO (Registration and Electoral Office) to review its setup to enable members and staff to accumulate experience?

SCA: Firstly, we welcome the report submitted by the Independent Committee of Experts today. It is very welcome that the report has confirmed that the integrity of the September 2004 Legislative Council elections is maintained; also that the principle of integrity, fairness and impartiality of the elections has not been compromised.

So far as recommendations in the report are concerned, there are a variety of areas in which we hope to seek improvements. For example, we need to consider the possibility of incorporating additional professional expertise into the Electoral Affairs Commission to support the Commission in its work such as IT expertise. For example, in organising the Central Command Centre, the report has recommended that we should station senior staff of the Registration and Electoral Office to take central command, and this is precisely what we did in the most recent by-election for filling vacancies in the Election Committee. The Chief Electoral Officer himself took charge of the Central Command Centre.

So there are a variety of areas which we will pursue and the overall direction is to continue to ensure that the integrity of Hong Kong elections will be maintained, and the independence of the Electoral Affairs Commission as an organisation which sets itself apart independently from the Government - that principle will also be respected.

Reporter: What lessons have you learnt? .... you will be following up on the measures?

SCA: I think the very clear lesson that we have learnt is that even though the overall impartiality and fairness of the election have been preserved, it is very necessary for thorough planning and detailed execution to be planned well ahead of time. There are some very specific recommendations which the Independent Committee of Experts has put forth. For example, they have suggested that we should incorporate more IT expertise into the work of the Electoral Affairs Commission, so as to support the Commission in its future deliberations. Secondly, in the Central Command Centre, they suggest that we should station most senior executive staff of the REO to take command - and that we have done in the recent by-elections. Thirdly, they have suggested aside from having one Central Command Centre, we should consider having sub-centres in the respective regions or the 18 districts. This can help facilitate the delivery of necessary equipment and materials to all 500 polling stations; and indeed these sub-regional and district centres could also help in re-counting ballot papers on future occasions if that is the model that we are to pursue. The fourth point that I would raise is that it is necessary for us to consider furthering the process of using IT technology in dealing with electoral matters. For example, the Independent Committee of Experts has suggested that we should reconsider using Optical Mark Readers to deal with the counting of Functional Constituency ballot papers. Finally, I would suggest that it is necessary for us to consider, if we are going to keep the polling-cum-counting arrangement in future elections, then as the Independent Committee of Experts has suggested, we would need to consider having two shifts of staff to deal with the counting work and the polling work.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Friday, May 6, 2005