Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and an oral reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (January 14):
It is learnt that some governments of other places provide financial and other assistance to political parties which have seats in their assemblies to ensure that the political parties have adequate funding and will not be controlled by individuals or consortia as a result of over-reliance on private donations. On the contrary, the political parties in Hong Kong have to raise their own funds. Although the authorities reimburse Legislative Council (LegCo) Members their operating expenses, the money is restricted to meeting expenses related to LegCo affairs, and the subsidy for candidates of a LegCo election at a rate of $11 per vote is provided to candidates only, and not political parties. In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council whether they will, having regard to the experience of other places, consider adopting the following measures:
(a) allowing political donations to political parties to be deductible in salaries tax and profits tax assessments, waiving the profits tax for political parties established in the form of companies, providing free postal services to political parties, and setting up a policy research fund through which political parties are sponsored to conduct public policy research;
(b) assisting political parties in broadcasting during elections, such as requiring broadcasters to provide free or discounted airtime to political parties during elections and setting up public channels for political parties, so as to increase the avenues for promoting their political ideologies; and
(c) providing free offices to political parties, as well as implementing other measures conducive to the development of political parties?
Regarding the question raised by Hon Emily Lau on Government's measures to fund the development of political parties, our reply is as follows.
For the first part of the question, the HKSAR Government has been adopting a positive attitude to facilitate the development of political parties in Hong Kong. In this regard, we have implemented a series of measures:
(1) In the 2004 LegCo election, we first introduced the financial assistance scheme for candidates with the aim of encouraging more aspiring candidates (including members of political parties) to participate in the election. In the 2008 LegCo election, the rate of subsidy was increased from $10 to $11 per vote. The financial assistance scheme was extended to cover District Council elections in 2007. At the same time, the formula for calculating the amount of financial assistance was relaxed such that the amount of election donations received by candidates would not need to be taken into account. This allows candidates to make full use of the financial support provided by political parties.
(2) Increasing the number of seats for election, so as to enhance the opportunity for people with different political backgrounds to participate in politics. For example, in 2007, the number of District Council seats was increased from 400 to 405. We would carefully consider whether the number of LegCo seats should be increased in 2012.
(3) The political appointment system has been further developed to attract talents with different backgrounds, including those with political affiliation, to join the Government. This can create more room for political party members to participate in politics.
We consider that, at the current stage, it would not be appropriate for the Government to make use of public funds to increase the financial assistance to political parties. Our considerations are as follows:
(1) Quite a number of candidates of the LegCo and District Council elections are independents with no political affiliation. If we enhance the financial assistance only for political parties, it might not be fair to the independents and might constrain the room for their participation in politics.
(2) According to overseas experience, Governments which provide financial assistance for political parties would, at the same time, introduce regulations on their operations, for example, requiring political parties to disclose the origins of their funds. This might hinder, rather than promote, the development of political parties.
(3) Given that political parties in Hong Kong are still at a developmental stage, members of the public might not agree that the Government should use public funds to finance the operations of political parties.
On the second part of the question, according to the election guidelines, during the election period, broadcasters should ensure that the "equal time" principle and the "no unfair advantage" principle are applied to all candidates with or without political affiliation. We have no plan to change the arrangement at this stage. As airwave is also a public resource, the relevant considerations are the same as those mentioned above.
On the third part of the question, as to whether more financial assistance (including the provision of offices) would be provided for political parties in future, in addition to the above-mentioned considerations, we would consider this question in light of developments in the coming 12 years as we move towards universal suffrage. At this stage, to meet their financial burden, it is the most important for political parties to enlist public support for their political philosophy so as to attract public donations. All mature political parties around the world raise funds on their own by seeking public support for their philosophy. The development of political parties in Hong Kong should continue to move in this direction.
Ends/Wednesday, January 14, 2009