|Government to work with community
The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, today (July 10) said that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSAR) would review the existing arrangements of canvassing public opinions and communicating with the public, with a view to strengthening the links with different quarters of the community and ensuring our policies were more in tune with public aspirations.
He said that the concerns expressed by the public during the demonstration on July 1 reflected that the Government should step up its efforts on various fronts, in particular in respect of communicating with the people and explaining its policies to them.
He stressed that that Government would learn from experience to strive for improvements and to strengthen cooperation with the Legislative Council (LegCo).
The above remarks were made by Mr Lam in response to the motion moved by Dr the Hon Yeung Sum on the Accountability System.
Mr Lam said that, during the past year, the community had been concerned about the stagnant economic situation, rising unemployment, and the impact of the SARS outbreak. The Government fully appreciated the pressures which the community faced.
The Policy Address and the Policy Agenda published concurrently in January this year carried a common theme to address these difficulties.
The Government was determined to do its utmost to revive the economy. Efforts were made to provide assistance to people who became unemployed due to economic restructuring, through the provision of retraining opportunities and other means.
He said that after the introduction of the Accountability System, the Government had become more decisive and flexible in response to the evolving situation and in formulating policies.
For example, in tackling the SARS outbreak, the Government had rolled out a package of relief measures amounting to $11.8 billion to help the community tide over their difficulties and to get the economy moving. It would also create 72,000 jobs and retraining opportunities. These proposals had been worked out in a few weeks' time, Mr Lam said.
To enable Hong Kong to benefit ahead of other economies from the increasingly open Mainland market, the Government had signed the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement with the Mainland. This Arrangement would open up the Mainland market to the Hong Kong's manufacturing industries and would broaden the scope of development for Hong Kong's service industries and professionals in the Mainland.
Mr Lam said that the above examples demonstrated that the Government attached tremendous importance to the public opinion and sentiments, as well as the well-being of the people.
In addressing Dr the Hon Yeung Sum's motion, Mr Lam said that the Chief Executive was the head of the HKSAR and of the HKSAR Government. These were the constitutional roles conferred upon him by the Basic Law.
In dealing with political incidents, the Chief Executive would have regard to the prevailing circumstances in deciding whether a politically appointed Principal Official should face criticism, make a public apology or leave office. The Chief Executive would have to consider the overall interests of Hong Kong, the circumstances of the particular case, and public sentiments.
Mr Lam emphasised that in both the Penny Stocks incident and the Car Purchase incident, the relevant Principal Officials were willing to shoulder political responsibility and apologised to the public. This readiness to bear political responsibility was an important development. It also signified that the Government had turned a new page in establishing the culture of accountability.
He said that although Hong Kong had not yet attained universal suffrage, because our community was highly transparent and open, it was feasible for us to introduce the Accountability System through political appointments. This was because Hong Kong had an elected legislature and a free press.
Under the Accountability System, all Principal Officials were subject to the scrutiny of the LegCo, the media and the public. The Penny Stocks incident and the Car Purchase incident demonstrated the force of the media and public scrutiny.
The Basic Law also provided for a mechanism of checks and balances between the executive and legislative authorities. The Government would not, and could not, act unilaterally under the mini-constitution. It needed the cooperation and support of the LegCo before any financial or legislative proposals could be implemented.
The case of Article 23 legislation demonstrated vividly that even though the existing legislature was not fully directly elected, it could still exercise its function of checks and balances on the executive authorities. In the light of the views expressed by the community and LegCo Members, the Government had adjusted the original legislative proposals and decided to postpone the resumption of the Second Reading of the bill.
Mr Lam said that the Government would take forward the review of post-2007 constitutional development methodically.
He stressed that the Government would conduct the review seriously and set aside sufficient time and opportunities for the public to participate and to give their views.
The Constitutional Affairs Bureau would conduct internal research, public consultation, and deal with local legislation.
Mr Lam said that although the Bureau had yet to start the public consultation exercise, it had been listening carefully to the different opinions expressed by the community. He would continue to listen to the views of different sectors in the future.
He said that he had heard the views of the public who gathered outside the LegCo last night. He would make best endeavours to establish common ground with different political parties and LegCo Members, and to create new room for constitutional development in accordance with the Basic Law.
Following the adoption of the Accountability System last year, henceforth any future Chief Executive would need to form a political team of Principal Officials to account to the people of Hong Kong. This was the most significant long-term implication of introducing the Accountability System, Mr Lam said.
On the other hand, the appointment of the slate of Permanent Secretaries under the Accountability System had preserved the fine traditions of a permanent, professional and politically neutral civil service.
Mr Lam said that the Accountability System represented an important step in the right direction. However, the Government clearly recognised that the operation of the system in the past year had not been entirely smooth.
The Accountability System was a new system of governance. The Government had made a start by creating a political tier at the top of the Administration, which would account to the people of Hong Kong and address public demands. However, the Government fully recognised that it should strengthen its efforts to maintain closer communication with the community to ensure that its policies could better meet public expectations, he said.
End/Thursday, July 10, 2003