In response to the comments by Legislative Council Member Mrs Anson Chan in RTHK's "Letter to Hong Kong" broadcast earlier today (June 22), a Government spokesman issued the following statement:
"The third-term HKSAR Government has made substantive progress in rolling forward democracy by attaining the timetable for implementing universal suffrage for the Chief Executive (CE) in 2017 and for the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2020. The expansion of the Political Appointment System will complement and pave the way for implementation of universal suffrage for the CE. More avenues are now available to those with political party, professional, academic, media and other backgrounds to take up political appointments to serve the public. More political talent will come forth within the next decade.
"On the question of nationality, Under Secretaries and Political Assistants are not Principal Officials. There is no requirement under the Basic Law that they should not hold right of abode in foreign countries. However, under the Basic Law, as public servants they must be permanent residents of the HKSAR. This position was made clear in October last year when the Government published the Report on Further Development of the Political Appointment System.
"Like other government leaders in free and open societies, the CE needs to have a political team to help implement his election manifesto. Thus, all Principal Officials, Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, have to support the election manifesto of the CE. In selecting candidates for Under Secretaries and Political Assistants, we have devised a system more elaborate than that adopted for Principal Officials. In response to views expressed during the public consultation in 2006, we have established an Appointment Committee (AC) chaired by the CE and interviewing panels involving relevant Secretaries of Department and Directors of Bureau.
"Thus, the appointment of Under Secretaries and Political Assistants has gone through a rigorous process involving collective decisions. The appointments were made according to the principle of meritocracy. All contractual remuneration packages offered are consistent with that approved by the Finance Committee (FC) of the LegCo in December 2007.
"On the appointment procedures, the LegCo approved the creation of the Under Secretary and Political Assistant positions in December 2007, and the Government indicated immediately afterwards that all interested parties could put forward their nominations or make self-nominations. The interviewing panels met on many occasions to interview the candidates with the participation of the relevant Secretaries of Department and Directors of Bureau. The interviewing panels made assessments of individual candidates and presented their assessments to the CE-chaired AC for consideration.
"On the appointment criteria, the Report on Further Development of the Political Appointment System has set out the aspects which the Government would take into account when considering candidates for appointment to these new positions. These include, for example, the network they have with their respective fields, the contribution which they can make to the relevant portfolios, their knowledge and experience in public service, and their ability, etc. The AC would also consider individual candidates in terms of their commitment to serving the community and pursuing a political career. It was under this framework that the AC made comprehensive assessment on individual candidates. All key decisions on the appointments were made by the AC on a collective basis. Moreover, the relevant Principal Officials would be consulted and their agreement secured before the AC decided on the exact posting for each Under Secretary or Political Assistant.
"As regards remuneration, there are three pay points for Under Secretaries and five for Political Assistants within the ranges approved by the FC. As set out in the Administration’s paper to LegCo's Panel on Constitutional Affairs, since the Administration is developing a new system and the public has considerable expectation of the new political appointees, the Administration has set relatively high standards for these appointments and has adopted the mid-point within the salary ranges as the anchor when considering whether to screen in a candidate. For those meeting the benchmark, their remuneration would be set at the mid-point within the approved ranges. In case particular individuals would suffer pay cuts upon taking up the assignment, we would adopt relatively higher salary points for these appointments. All key decisions on the appointments, including the decisions on the remuneration of individual appointees, were made by the AC on a collective basis.
"The salaries of individual Under Secretaries and Political Assistants were made public on June 10. From now on, the Government will make clear to any newly-appointed Under Secretaries and Political Assistants that their personal remuneration will be disclosed. We believe that this arrangement can maintain the transparency of the remuneration of the relevant officials.
"We hope that expanding the Political Appointment System will help pave the way for implementation of universal suffrage for returning the CE, so that the candidate who wins can have sufficient room to nominate and appoint his team of Principal Officials and their deputies. Constitutional development towards universal suffrage should go hand in hand with further development of the Political Appointment System.
"On constitutional development, the third-term HKSAR Government, led by CE Mr Donald Tsang, has taken a position more advanced than that adopted in any previous term of Government. The Government issued the Green Paper on Constitutional Development only 11 days after inauguration last July. This was the first time in Hong Kong’s history that the public had been consulted on the models, roadmap and timetable for implementing universal suffrage.
"Having considered the CE's report, the National People's Congress Standing Committee adopted the decision last year which made clear the universal suffrage timetable. Following the Standing Committee's decision, an implementation roadmap has been outlined to complement the universal suffrage timetable.
"Between 2008 and 2012, we should endeavour to roll forward Hong Kong's electoral methods to a mid-way point. On this front, the CE has set up a task group on constitutional development under the Commission on Strategic Development to consider the two electoral methods for 2012.
"The task group will conclude discussions in late June. The HKSAR Government will decide, in the fourth quarter of 2008, when to consult the public on the CE and LegCo electoral methods for 2012. The public consultation will be undertaken as soon as possible.
"Between 2012 and 2017, the fourth-term HKSAR Government and the fifth-term LegCo should address together the method for implementing universal suffrage for the CE. The CE taking office in 2017 will have to work with the LegCo returned in 2016 and come up with proposals to attain universal suffrage for the LegCo in 2020. This CE, returned by universal suffrage, will have broad public support to lead the Hong Kong community to resolve this issue.
"Now that the universal suffrage timetable has been set, we believe that, in the years to come this will motivate different political parties and independent members in the LegCo, as well as different sectors within the community, to work together with the HKSAR Government towards securing consensus for implementing universal suffrage for the CE in 2017 and for LegCo in 2020."
Ends/Sunday, June 22, 2008