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Transcript of SCA's briefing

The following is a transcript of a standing-up briefing which was given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam this (July 18) afternoon:

SCA: We have just issued earlier today the "12-Month Report on the Implementation of Accountability System". I like to take this opportunity to make a few points to friends of the media.

Firstly, the Accountability System has been established. It is a step in the right direction. It is an important change to the system of governance and public administration in Hong Kong. We recognise that the operation in the first year has not been entirely smooth. In particular, we believe that we need to continue to make further efforts and improvements in our communication with the public and in our co-operation with the Legislative Council (LegCo). Yesterday, the Chief Executive made it clear that he himself and his team of Government Secretaries would take further actions to liaise with political parties, with opinion formers, with the media and with the public. In coming months and years, we will make further efforts in these directions.

The second point I would like to make is that under the Accountability System, the Principal Officials concerned and the whole Government team have become more decisive and responsive in meeting the community's needs. For example, after the subsiding of SARS, within a few weeks, we have come up with a package amounting to $11.8 billion to help revive certain sectors of the economy. We have also come up with various packages to create 72, 000 job opportunities and retraining opportunities. This is an illustration of the manner in which we tried to go about our work as speedily as possible to meet the needs of the community.

The third point I would like to make is that according to the design of the Accountability System, it is up to the Chief Executive to determine in responding to any particular political incidents, whether the Principal Official concerned should be criticised, should apologise to the public or should leave his/her Principal Official position. You would have noticed that in the course of the last 12 months, in dealing with incidents such as the Penny Stocks incident, the Car Purchase incident, Principal Officials concerned have acted according to the design of the system, have been prepared to stand up and be counted and to assume political responsibility.

Finally, I would like to point out that a year ago, when we introduced the new system, the Accountability System, our undertaking to the LegCo was to do a review primarily of administrative matters after one year. For example, our undertaking was to identify sufficient financial savings through reorganisation of policy bureaux and departments to ensure that we would have enough savings to offset the costs of introducing the new system. So in the course of June, I have already reported to the LegCo that through various reorganisation and economy measures, various bureaux and departments of the Government have come up with savings amounting to about $110 million, and they more than offset the costs of introducing the new system of spending $42 million in the first year. The Accountability System has been introduced. It is a new system. We believe we have made a right start. We shall continue to make best endeavours to improve on the system so that we can serve the public better and to the best of our abilities.

Reporter: Why can't he set out criteria.... Principal Officials to step down?

SCA: Actually the Code of Conduct for Principal Officials has already set out very clearly the manner in which Principal Officials should behave. And also over the course of last few months, for example in the context of the Car Purchase incident, the community, members of the LegCo have used this code as the basis for measuring the propriety of the conduct or behaviour of the Principal Official concerned. I think the standards are there. And as with any other jurisdiction, it is for the head of the Government to determine what particular course of action should be taken having regard to prevailing circumstances. In the case of Hong Kong, the Chief Executive is the head of the HKSAR Government. He is also the head of the Region. So, these are the constitutional duties and powers which have been bestowed upon him by the Basic Law. And it is appropriate that he should judge the prevailing political circumstances and the ins and outs of the particular case to decide which particular course of action should be taken.

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

End/Friday, July 18, 2003