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SCMA meets media after constitutional development taskforce workshop

    Following is the transcript of the meet-the-media session held by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after the workshop organised by the Task Group on Constitutional Development of the Commission on Strategic Development this afternoon (May 29) (English portion):

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I am very grateful to you all for covering our constitutional development taskforce workshop this afternoon. We discussed two major areas.

    Firstly, as regards the electoral methods for forming the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2012, quite a few organisations and other participants at today's workshop are in favour of increasing the number of LegCo seats in 2012. Most have stated a preference for increasing the number of seats to 70. But there is also a proposal that we should increase the number of seats to 80.

    As regards how we should treat the increased number of seats, there are those who favour creating new functional constituencies such as a civil service functional constituency, a functional constituency for women, a functional constituency for small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs). There are those who suggest that maybe we should combine the existing functional constituencies and broaden the elector base. Quite a few participants have suggested that we should increase the number of LegCo seats to be returned by District Councillors electing amongst themselves. The proponents of this proposal believe that this would extend political participation room in Hong Kong and would also increase the democratic element in forming the LegCo.

    Quite a few participants have suggested in the longer run, by 2020, when we are in a position to implement universal suffrage for forming the LegCo, we should adopt a formula of "one person, two votes", that is one vote for geographical constituencies, another vote for functional constituencies. But of course, there are those who continue to propose that functional constituencies should be abolished when implementing universal suffrage.

    As for the electoral method for returning the Chief Executive (CE) in 2012, quite a few participants and organisations are in favour of a smooth transition of the electoral college - the Election Committee formed in 2012 to be transposed to become the Nominating Committee in 2017.

    As for the number of members and composition of the committee, there are two views. There are those who suggest that since we only have one interim CE election in 2012 before implementing universal suffrage in 2017, then maybe there should be minimal changes to the composition of the Election Committee. There are those who even suggest that maybe we should keep a membership of 800. On the other hand, there is the view that we should expand substantially the number of members for the Election Committee. There are those who suggest 1,200 members and those who suggest 1,800 members.

    So, on various aspects of detailed implementation, we need to continue our discussions. But today's workshop has been useful in that we have been able to gather more views from various think tanks, academics and political organisations. This will be helpful to the Government in planning for the next phase of public consultation.

Reporter: How would you propose to ensure both to maintain functional constituencies and also to maintain Hong Kong people’s equal right to be elected?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: At this stage, the Administration has not taken a view on the future of functional constituencies nor have we taken a view on how we should implement universal suffrage for forming the legislature in 2020. Our focus now is on dealing with the electoral methods for forming the legislature in 2012 and for returning the CE in that year. How we deal with functional constituencies is a more long term problem which we will need to address after 2012.

Reporter: Why hasn't the Government been out there be seen to be assertively and aggressively defending its own long-standing policy and its political appointees on the question of passports?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: Actually, the Government has made clear our position in the course of the last week or so. The Chief Secretary, myself and other colleagues have stated very clearly that according to the Basic Law, Secretaries of the Government and other Principal Officials are required to be Chinese nationals with no foreign right of abode. This position applies and will continue to apply. Under Secretaries only need to be permanent residents of Hong Kong and according to the Basic Law, they can be appointed. Today, an individual colleague has already communicated with the media that having regard to public opinion, he has decided to state clearly his foreign right of abode and his position to apply for that to be rescinded. The principles of the Basic Law are very clear and this Government will not waver from that legal and constitutional position. But individual colleagues are free to make their individual decisions.

Reporter: ... Why cannot you be aggressively defending and protecting your own political appointees for such an important part of your constitutional development? ...

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We have stated very clearly the position of the Basic Law and we have repeatedly explained that we have every faith, every confidence in the batch of new recruits to fill positions of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants that they have a firm commitment to serve the people of Hong Kong. Our position on the constitutional and legal implications of political appointments will not waver.

Reporter: You mentioned that a certain Under Secretary has today, having taken into account the community's views, rescinded his foreign nationality. Does that mean other Under Secretaries who do not rescind their foreign nationality are not listening to the community's views?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I am sure that all our colleagues who are Under Secretaries will be very lively and very sensitive to public opinions. They are also, of course, fully aware of the provisions of the Basic Law. As far as the Government is concerned, these appointments have been made in full compliance with existing policies and constitutional, legal provisions. It is up to individual colleagues to decide on their foreign right of abode. The Administration will respect any individual decisions made.

Reporter: Future appointees or potential appointees may very well look at what is happening now and say to themselves – if I want to accept high position, whatever it may be, I can't do this unless I am to burn all my bridges behind me. Is this the message you really want to send?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I think for future political appointees, who are going to become Under Secretaries, they will all consider very closely their commitment to serving the people of Hong Kong and whether they wish to pursue this particular political career. I am sure that we will continue to be able to attract many capable colleagues to join the Administration.

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

Ends/Thursday, May 29, 2008