|LCQ5: Meetings with Mainland authorities on cross-border issues
Following is a question by the Hon Cyd HO and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council meeting today (October 31):
The contents and outcome of the meetings held between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government and the relevant Mainland authorities on matters relating to cross-border cooperation may have far reaching impact on the society. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the number of meetings on cross-border issues attended by Hong Kong SAR officials at the rank of department head or above since the handover of sovereignty, as well as the attendance lists, agenda items, conclusions arrived at and outstanding issues to be followed up in respect of each of these meetings;
(b) of the formal mechanisms in place for disseminating information on these meetings and enabling the public to have access to such information; if no formal mechanisms are in place, of the reasons for that; and
(c) whether it will consider making it a standing arrangement to report proactively to the Legislative Council, before and after each round of meetings, matters relating to such meetings and the progress of the items discussed; if so, when this arrangement will be implemented; if not, whether it will assess how such a decision may undermine the accountability and transparency of the Government?
(a) Since reunification, the HKSAR Government has established a cordial working relationship with the Central People's Government and other relevant Mainland authorities under the principle of "One Country, Two Systems". In the past few years, policy bureaux and departments of the HKSAR Government have established direct communication channels with their Mainland counterparts. During the three and a half year period between reunification and the end of 2000, there were a total of 9 260 exchanges between officials of the HKSAR Government and the Mainland. These exchanges included meetings on operational matters, seminars, training programmes, familiarisation visits and regular working sessions. As the scope of meetings on cross-boundary issues referred to in Miss Ho's question is extensive and that such meetings may take many different forms, it is very difficult to provide in detail the number of such meetings as well as the attendance list, agenda items and follow-up actions in respect of each meeting.
(b) At present, depending on the nature of the discussions, policy bureaux and departments usually disseminate information to the public about their meetings with the relevant Mainland authorities through press releases, press conferences or other channels before or after such meetings. They may also brief the relevant Legislative Council panels. For example, the Environment and Food Bureau briefed the Legislative Council Panel on Environmental Affairs in May this year on the work progress of the Hong Kong-Guangdong Joint Working Group on Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection. Also, several meetings were held between the Security Bureau and the Legislative Council Panel on Security on issues relating to the reciprocal notification mechanism for Hong Kong residents detained in the Mainland. Press releases on these meetings are available at the website of the Information Services Department for public information. At the same time, the public have access to the Legislative Council papers submitted by the Government through the various channels provided by the Legislative Council.
(c) I believe Members would agree that in the process of inter-government negotiations and discussions, there is a need for the content to be kept confidential. We could not publicise the relevant recommendations or proceed with the necessary public consultation and other procedures until after such discussions have reached a certain stage. Releasing details of the discussions prematurely may seriously affect the progress of discussion and our strategy. Moreover, disclosing the details of discussion prematurely, or when both sides are only conducting preliminary exchanges of ideas, may give rise to unwarranted speculations. In the case of more complex issues, lengthy discussions and negotiations may be required before conclusions are reached. Nonetheless, the policy objectives and policies of bureaux and departments are open and transparent, and most of these policies have been debated at the Legislative Council or the various panels and committees.
In the light of the above and having regard to the increasingly frequent contacts with the Mainland authorities on matters relating to cross-boundary cooperation, we consider that a standing arrangement requiring heads of department or above to brief Members on the progress of each meeting is neither practical nor feasible. We suggest briefing the Legislative Council on a case by case basis. We will, as in the past, hold post-meeting briefings for Members or the full Council as and when there are substantial developments on important issues. The HKSAR Government has always acted in a responsible manner. I believe the existing arrangements and the mechanism in place has been effective in realising the accountability and transparency of the Government.
End/Wednesday, October 31, 2001