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Speech by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs
on Moving the District Councils Bill for 2nd Reading
at the LegCo Meeting held on 16.12.98
(English Translation)


          I hereby move that the District Councils Bill be read a second time.

2.       The future development of the District Boards constitutes an important aspect in the Review of District Organisations. Over the past year, we conducted extensive consultation with different sectors of our community and having considered their views, the Administration has decided that the following changes should be adopted as the general direction for the future development of the District Boards:

(a) The structure of existing District Boards should be retained, meaning that the boundaries of the 18 District Boards would generally remain unchanged.
(b) The functions of future District Councils should be enhanced, particularly in the areas of advising the Government on food and environmental hygiene services, and in support of this development, the Councils would be given additional support.
(c) The 18 'Provisional District Boards' should be renamed, in English, 'District Councils'.
(d) The first election to the District Councils should be held in late 1999 with the number of elected members to be determined on the basis of one elected seat per 17 000 population.

3.       The District Councils Bill submitted today is drafted with a view to implementing the above changes. Its objective is to provide for the establishment, composition and functions of a District Council and to set out the relevant electoral procedure. Its provisions closely follow those in the former District Boards Ordinance and Electoral Provision Ordinance. In effect, it can be said that this Bill is a merger of these two and we have chosen to draft a single piece of legislation because this would provide a more comprehensive and a clearer picture of the District Council and would facilitate Honourable Members to examine the relevant provision in one Bill. This approach follows the example of the Legislative Council Ordinance.

4.       The Bill consists of 11 Parts as follows:

      Part I Commencement and definitions;
Part II - IV Declaration of Districts, establishment and membership composition of District Councils;
Part V Election of members;
Part VI Functions and procedure of a District Council;
Part VII-X Duties of electoral officers, power to make regulations and miscellaneous provisions; and
Part XI Repeal of the Provisional District Boards Ordinance and consequential amendments.

5.       With regard to the establishment of District Councils, the main provisions are as follows:

(a) The HKSAR will be divided into 18 Districts with most of the district boundaries remaining unchanged. For each of these Districts, a District Council will be established to replace the corresponding Provisional District Boards set up upon return of the sovereignty.
(b) A District Council is to be composed of 3 categories of members, namely elected members, ex officio members and appointed members. For the 1st term of District Council members, there will be a total of 519 members, comprising 390 elected members, 102 appointed members and 27 ex officio members.
(c) The term of office of both elected and appointed members will last 4 years, beginning from 1.1.2000.
(d) The main function of the District Council is to advise the Government on matters affecting the well-being of the people in the District, including matters relating to food and environmental hygiene services.
(e) Each District Council will have a Vice Chairman to assist the Chairman in the discharge of his duties.
(f) The quorum requirement of DC meeting will be not less than half of the members. At present the requirement is fixed at a number equivalent to one-third of the total membership.

6.       The number of elected member will be computed on the basis one elected seat to every 17 000 population which is the same as in 1994. Due to increase in population, the number of elected members will increase from 346 in the past to 390. With regard to appointed members, they will represent about one-fifth of the total number of District Council members, inclusive of ex officio members. For the number of elected and appointed members in individual Districts, please refer to Schedule 3 in the Bill.

7.       With regard to appointed members, I appreciate that individual members may have different views and consideration. During our consultation on the Review of District Organisations, we have gathered from the community different opinion about appointed membership. Many indicated their preference to retain appointed members in order to attract some individuals who are enthusiastic and interested in district affairs and are capable and experienced but have no intention to serve the community through the channel of election to join the District Councils. Such will help not only to reflect the interest of different sectors within a District but also to enhance the quality of District Councils in deliberating business. And this will certainly be beneficial to the operation of District Councils and the people in the District particularly when many issues affecting the well-being of the people (such as advising on food and environmental hygiene service) will fall within the purview of District Councils in future. In the past, appointed members represent about one-third of the total number of District Boards members. Since we propose now to retain appointed members at the proportion of about one-fifth of the total number of members in a District Council, it should be reasonable and acceptable.

8.       With regard to the retention of 27 Rural Committee Chairmen as ex officio members on the District Councils in the New Territories, we are of the view that since this is a long standing and effective arrangement, it should continue so that the interests and views of the indigenous residents can be fully reflected.

9.       We have recommended in the Bill that the advisory role of District Councils in food and environmental hygiene services should be enhanced. Moreover, through administrative arrangements, we would appoint more District Board members to a greater number of advisory committees concerned with the well-being of people. We would also invite the future Chairmen of District Councils to become formal members of the District Management Committees. We earnestly hope that District Councils will assume more responsibilities in district affairs such as building management, fire prevention, environmental improvement, transport matters, community building and promotion of recreational and cultural activities. To match with this increase in responsibility, the Administration is considering the provision of additional support for District Council members and relevant District Offices so that they can carry out their functions effectively. In this connection, the Chief Secretary has asked Bureau and Department heads to step up communication with individual District Boards and to report their work and explain their policies to District Boards and to answer enquires and to consult District Boards in a positive, frank and open manner.

10.       With regard to the electoral arrangements, the provisions are drafted, having regard to the existing Legislative Council Ordinance and the former Electoral Provisions Ordinance. Our aim is to ensure that election will be held under a fair, open and honest environment. Main provisions in the Bill are as follows:

(a) The eligibility criteria of DC elector are the same as that of LegCo. To be eligible, a person must be a permanent Hong Kong resident, has reached the age of 18 and should ordinarily reside in Hong Kong. This means that all persons who have registered as electors in the geographical constituencies of LegCo will automatically become electors of the District Councils.
(b) Since the Bill has to be examined and demarcation of constituency boundaries can only proceed after enactment of the Bill, it is not feasible to indicate in the next Final Register compiled under the LegCo Ordinance the District Council constituency in which an elector is eligible to vote. In view of this, the Registration and Electoral Office will publish, two months prior to the ordinary election, a separate Register to provide the above indication (i.e. the District Council constituency in which an elector is eligible to vote).
(c) Candidates for a DC election or a LegCo election are identical. This means that a candidate must be a registered elector, has reached the age of 21 and has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong over the past 3 years.
(d) One member is to be returned in an election from each constituency and each voter is entitled to vote once at an election. A person is not eligible to be nominated as a candidate in more than one constituency and the 'single majority' voting system will be adopted for the election of District Council members.
(e) Like the LegCo election, an election petition may be lodged with the court on the grounds of doubts in election result.
(f) The Electoral Affairs Commission will, in accordance with the number of elected seats in the District and the population criterion of about 17 000, demarcate the constituency boundaries and prior to submission of their report to the Chief Executive, the Commission should consult the public on their preliminary recommendations.

11.       Finally, I would like to invite all Honourable Members of this Council to expedite the processing of this Bill. It is because after enactment of the primary Ordinance, there is still a lot of preparatory work to be completed before the District Council ordinary election can be organised to elect District Council members in time to replace the Provisional District Board members whose term of office would lapse by the end of December 1999. Preparatory work include the demarcation of constituency boundaries and enactment of subsidiary legislation which includes regulations governing election expenses, security deposit and election procedure etc., and such must be completed before the LegCo goes into recess in July next year. In addition, lead time has to be allowed for other items of work such as publication of the Register, nomination of candidates and election activities. Failure to complete the above will result in substantial delay to the HKSAR's first ordinary District Council election. The Administration will fully cooperate with Honourable Members in the processing of this Bill and we are aiming to have the Bill enacted not later than mid-February 1999 (i.e. before the Chinese New Year) so that there will be legal backing for the District Council election. Thank you all.

Constitutional Affairs Bureau

Government Secretariat

15 December 1998