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Speech by SCA at Special Finance Committee Meeting

Following is the speech (translated version) by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, at the Special Meeting of the Finance Committee in the Legislative Council this afternoon (March 14):


Estimate of Constitutional Affairs Bureau

Our main priorities in the coming year will be on two fronts, namely constitutional development and Mainland affairs.

In 2006-07, the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB) is allocated $135.7 million, which is about $70.6 million (or 108.4%) more than the revised estimate for 2005-06. The additional provisions will be used mainly to meet the expenses in several areas.

Firstly, establishing Economic and Trade Offices (ETOs) in Chengdu and Shanghai will incur expenditure of $21.71 million and $29.94 million respectively.

Secondly, an additional sum of $12.54 million will be needed to meet the expenses arising from expansion of the functions and geographical coverage of the ETO in Guangdong (GDETO).

Thirdly, we need extra staff to deal with the administrative and resource management matters of the Mainland ETOs, and this requires additional expenditure of $1.81 million.

Constitutional Development

Discussion on roadmap for attaining universal suffrage

Despite sustained lobbying efforts by the Government towards the end of last year, eventually the constitutional package for 2007/08 did not acquire the support of two-thirds of the Legislative Council (LegCo) Members. Our hope of taking forward the constitutional development did not come to fruition. However, the Government will not put aside work on constitutional development. We will continue to explore issues relating to universal suffrage through the Commission on Strategic Development. We will conclude discussions on the concepts and principles of universal suffrage by the middle of this year, and we plan to round up discussions on the design of systems for electing the Chief Executive (CE) and LegCo by universal suffrage in early 2007. We will publish these conclusions and report them to the Central Authorities.

2007 Chief Executive Election

Separately, we introduced into LegCo the amendment bill relating to the 2007 CE election last week. The SAR Government will work closely with the Bills Committee to be set up shortly.

District Council Review

As regards the review of the District Councils (DCs), we will enable DCs to participate in the management of selected district facilities, starting with facilities of the Home Affairs Department and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The preparation work for the review has reached its final stage. We will issue a consultation document within the first half of the year to seek the views of the public. Thereafter, we will introduce a pilot scheme to allow a number of DCs to participate in the management of selected district facilities. Subject to the outcome of the pilot scheme, we will then decide how to implement the proposal on a full scale.

Further development of political appointment system

Furthermore, we will collect public views on the further development of the political appointment system around the middle of this year. Specifically, we propose to create within the Government a small number of new positions dedicated to political affairs to provide support to Principal Officials, and to further strengthen the traditions of a politically neutral and professional civil service.

As we would like to devote a longer period of time for the development and refinement of the entire set of proposals, and in particular, to allow adequate time for consultation with civil servants, the proposals will not be put into implementation in the near future. We expect that the earliest opportunity would be around mid-2007.

Mainland Affairs

Mainland Affairs Liaison Office

Now I will turn to Mainland affairs. In the past eight years or so, policy bureaux have already established effective communication channels with their counterparts in the Mainland (particularly with ministries and departments of the Central Government). Thus, regional cooperation will be the priority of the Mainland Affairs Liaison Office (MALO) in future.

Regional cooperation

Years of hard work between the two sides have yielded good progress in Hong Kong/Guangdong cooperation. In future, we will apply further efforts to promote cooperation with other regions, in particular the Pan-Pearl River Delta (PPRD) regional cooperation.

To take forward PPRD regional cooperation, our future strategy is to strengthen "three flows".

Firstly, flow of people. We will promote proactively the extension of the Individual Visit Scheme to another six PPRD provincial capitals, with the hope of putting this proposal in place around the middle of the year.

Secondly, cargo flow. To expand the flow of cargo, it is essential to enhance the infrastructural and transportation linkages between HKSAR and the ten PPRD provinces/regions. We are working closely with Guangdong and the relevant Central Authorities to explore the feasibility of various projects, including the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Rail Link and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

Thirdly, capital flow. As at the end of last year, of the 335 Mainland companies listed in Hong Kong, 89 came from the PPRD region. We have the capacity to attract more Mainland enterprises to get listed in Hong Kong. The SAR Government will host a forum in Hong Kong next week to promote Hong Kong's financial services to the PPRD provinces/regions.

Shanghai and Chengdu ETOs

The establishment of ETOs in Shanghai and Chengdu in the second half of the year will further improve Hong Kong's representation in the Mainland. The two ETOs, together with the Beijing Office and GDETO, will cover the 31 provinces/regions/municipalities in the Mainland. In addition to performing the trade promotion function to the best of their abilities, the offices will also assist in taking forward cooperation initiatives relating to Hong Kong according to the respective areas covered by the ETOs.

With effect from April, the functions of the GDETO will be enhanced to provide assistance to Hong Kong residents in distress. Broadly speaking, there are two types of assistance sought by Hong Kong residents in the Mainland. The first category involves incidents of loss of money or identity documents or accidents. In practice, the majority of distress cases belong to this category. According to the experience of the Beijing Office, colleagues in the Immigration Department have been able to handle most of such cases properly within the limits of their powers. In future, the Beijing Office and GDETO will provide assistance to Hong Kong residents in an equally professional manner.

The second category involves cases relating to commercial disputes. Depending on the circumstances of the complainants, the four offices will refer the cases to the relevant authorities for follow-up, or provide complainants with information on the legal services and judicial proceedings in the Mainland.

Taiwan affairs

On the handling of Taiwan affairs, our current approach is very open. We welcome from Taiwan the visits of official delegations, as well as delegations of non-governmental organisations. We are prepared to make arrangements for their visits and to facilitate exchanges. Last year, we received delegations of city councillors, students and professionals from Taiwan. In the coming year, we will continue to promote exchanges in this area, and maintain liaison with the Taiwan organisations in Hong Kong.

Promotion of Basic Law

This year, we have reserved $7 million for organising activities to promote the Basic Law. Together with the provisions of other bureaux and departments, the HKSAR Government as a whole will set aside some $10 million for Basic Law promotion.

We are prepared to cooperate with different community bodies in organising the promotional activities.

Estimate of Registration and Electoral Office

For 2006-07, we propose to allocate $174.1 million to the Registration and Electoral Office. There has been a more significant increase in the allocation, as preparations for a number of elections will start this year.

The provisions set aside for organising the Election Committee subsector elections and the CE election in the current financial year will be about $87 million.

Chairman, I have completed my briefing. My colleagues and I will be pleased to respond to Members' questions.

Ends/Tuesday, March 14, 2006