Following is the transcript of the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam’s response to media questions after attending the Legislative Council Finance Committee meeting this (July 14) morning:
Reporter: In summary form, what are the key points of this proposal?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We are proposing that we should seek an allocation of $2 billion from the Finance Committee for Hong Kong to begin our contribution to efforts of reconstructing Sichuan.
Reporter: This will be the first instalment of what could ultimately be something a little under $10 billion?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We believe that in total, Hong Kong would not need to contribute beyond $10 billion. For a start, the Hong Kong Jockey Club has already announced their plans over the next few years to contribute $1 billion to the reconstruction efforts. We also believe that the Hong Kong community would wish to participate, both organisations and individuals. So we intend to establish a trust fund under the Secretary for Home Affairs Incorporation to take this forward.
Reporter: The steering committee, it's all Government officials. Now you've got NGOs that are already working up there and understand things on the ground very well. Why aren't the NGOs part of the steering committee?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: We actually warmly welcome the participation of NGOs. We have plans to establish five working groups under the steering committee: one on reconstruction, another on medical and health, a third one on home affairs, a fourth one on social welfare, and a fifth one on education and training. For the one on reconstruction, we have already involved NGOs and professional bodies in Hong Kong, covering the engineering, architectural and other professional sectors. Likewise, for education, welfare, health, etc, we intend to involve NGOs and professional bodies in the respective fields aside from Government officials.
Reporter: Let’s go back to the question – why are they not on the steering committee?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The steering committee is another body. It is the body which will determine the Government’s overall involvement and contribution to the reconstruction efforts. It is our intention to report periodically to the legislature. So at that level, the Legislative Council will monitor the Government’s reconstruction efforts. Also, the involvement of public funds will be audited, and the NGOs and the respective professional bodies which will be applying for funding from the trust fund will also be required to file periodic progress reports and audited accounts.
Reporter: There are a few questions that came through very clearly from legislators. One, what’s the rush? You are pushing the efforts through by Friday, but, you don’t really have a plan in place yet as to where the money is going to be spent.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: This reconstruction effort, we believe, has the broad support of the Hong Kong community. There are many professional bodies and NGOs who already have preliminary plans to take part in the reconstruction efforts up in Sichuan Province. I have accompanied the Chief Executive on the visit to Sichuan end of June, and I have witnessed personally how several Hong Kong NGOs already have got in touch with municipal governments in Sichuan, and they have started to put together plans for building schools in agricultural regions, for constructing homes in different mountainous regions. So I believe that in the next few months, we will be receiving applications for funding support from these NGOs in Hong Kong.
Reporter: Over the next few months you probably will, but we are talking about Wednesday to Friday. Why not a little bit more time? Why not answer some of these questions about plans, and also the question that some of the people who they believe you have already involved yourself with are running for re-election, and that it looks like you might be helping out some people?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: It is necessary for us to have a clear decision on the part of the Government and on the part of the Hong Kong community, that we want to take part in overall terms in encouraging participation in these reconstruction efforts. And therefore, a start of $2 billion, we believe, will get sufficient support from among the legislature. We also believe that having taken this step, NGOs in Hong Kong and our professional organisations will see the way forward and that this will enable them to plan during the summer while the legislature is in recess. It is true that we have an election coming, and during election time, we will abide fully by the electoral guidelines issued by the Electoral Affairs Commission. We will not be partial to any potential candidates standing for elections.
Reporter: But what about the point that was raised that this structure has a little bit of a HarbourFest feeling?
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: This is a different exercise. This is one which has the support of the wider community, and this is one which has the potential of involving many professional and community organisations. We believe this exercise is totally worth the effort.
Ends/Monday, July 14, 2008