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SCMA speaks to media on support for ethnic minorities and constitutional reform

     Following is a transcript of the remarks made by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, to the media after officiating at the opening ceremony of the HOPE Support Service Centre for Ethnic Minorities operated by the International Social Service – Hong Kong Branch, this afternoon (August 29):

Reporter: Would you start by briefly commenting on how is the ethnic minorities' experience in Hong Kong?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I would like to say that Hong Kong, being a cosmopolitan and international society, all these ethnic groups and ethnic children have always been and will continue to be a very important asset to Hong Kong. Hong Kong needs to develop markets all over the world, and these ethnic groups have substantial and very important ties with all continents, whether it is Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa or Australasia. We are establishing these four centres in Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories in order to enable these children who are growing up in Hong Kong to have opportunities to learn more about Hong Kong outside the school curriculum. Here they can have tutorial classes in English and Chinese, they can learn to speak Cantonese, and at the same time, participate in activities which help them retain their cultural identity and diversity. I think this is very important work which we are beginning just this year. In the next two to three years, the Administration will monitor very closely the impact this is going to have on our ethnic minority groups. If necessary, we will broaden this programme and invest even more resources into its implementation.

Reporter: Why have these centres just started this year?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: My Bureau -- the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau -- took over the responsibility for the human rights portfolio about two years ago. One of my first missions was to promote the enactment of the Race Discrimination Ordinance. Secondly, in order to complement the implementation of this Ordinance, I proposed within the Government that we establish these four centres to help integrate our ethnic groups into the Hong Kong community, and at the same time help them retain their diversity.

Reporter: As far as I know, two of these centres are open right now. What about the other two? When will they open?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: All four centres are under preparation, and some have already had their soft openings. During this summer, they will all become fully operational.

Reporter: What's so special about these centres?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: These centres are special in that they will promote programmes which help ethnic minority groups to learn English and Cantonese. They have special classes which teach them special skills, like computer, and organise activities which help them retain their cultural and historical identities and distinctiveness. So, on the one hand, they will feel more integrated into the Hong Kong community. On the other, they feel at home here. They feel that this is a place where they can get themselves organised and get together.

Reporter: There has been talk before that these minorities were saying that they find it hard to assimilate into Hong Kong because they don't understand the language. Education has been singled out as a very important factor, especially in schools, for the kids. So how does the Government accommodate that?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The Education Bureau has special policies which help ethnic group children to integrate into the Hong Kong community. There are designated schools which attract and enrol more ethnic minority children. The Government will provide extra resources to these schools so that they can employ more assistants to help develop the schools' curriculum. Also, we have made policy decisions to encourage our universities to accept ethnic minority students who will not be taking Hong Kong examinations in Chinese but taking, say, the GCSE in the UK.

Reporter: But they are also saying that it will be more expensive?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: This is something which we understand. My colleagues in the Education Bureau will monitor the situation. But already, by way of relaxation in this policy, we hope that more of these children will be able to enter tertiary education.

Reporter: What about the minimum wage for the Filipino maids, that they do not have the protection of minimum wage?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: This is a matter which you need to raise with the Labour and Welfare Bureau.

Reporter: These centres seem to provide a lot of recreational activities. Are there funds or scholarships to help students get more education in this sense?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: As far as my bureau is concerned, my responsibility is to implement the Race Discrimination Ordinance. One of our most important initiatives is to start these four centres rolling. We also have modest scholarship schemes which we operate together with certain NGOs, by way of encouraging students to perform relatively better in schools among the ethnic minority groups.

Reporter: On constitutional reform?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: In recent days, there have been questions relating to the possibility of the Chief Executive (CE) dissolving the Legislative Council (LegCo) if our constitutional reform package were not approved by the legislature. I would like to emphasise that under Article 50 of the Basic Law, the CE may exercise such a discretion to decide to dissolve the LegCo if a local bill (e.g. the Budget) is not approved by the LegCo. However, in dealing with constitutional reform, the Government has to propose amendments to Annexes I and II of the Basic Law. This is a constitutional amendment. This motion, if it is passed by the legislature by two-thirds majority, will still need to be endorsed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Article 50 of the Basic Law does not apply in this situation and the LegCo cannot be dissolved by the CE even if our motion for constitutional reform were not passed by the LegCo. So there is no possibility of the CE dissolving the LegCo even if the constitutional reform package were not approved. But I would like to emphasise that as and when we commence our consultations on the 2012 constitutional reform package during the fourth quarter of this year, we will do everything in our abilities to promote the support for this package within the LegCo among different political parties and legislators.

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

Ends/Saturday, August 29, 2009