In response to media enquiries, a Government spokesman today (March 12) made the following response to comments in the US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2009 relating to Hong Kong:
"Regarding the interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC), in accordance with the PRC Constitution (Article 67) and the Basic Law (Article 158), the NPCSC has the power to interpret the Basic Law. This is part of Hong Kong's constitutional order under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle. This principle is fully acknowledged and respected by the Hong Kong community and by its courts.
Since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), we have been making steady progress on constitutional development in accordance with the Basic Law. The size of the Election Committee for electing the Chief Executive (CE) was doubled to 800 to enhance community participation. Most members of the Election Committee were elected from different sectors of the community covering the business, professional, labour, social services, religious and political sectors. As regards the Legislative Council (LegCo), the number of seats returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections has increased steadily in the last three terms. Currently, half of the members of the LegCo are returned by universal suffrage.
The decision adopted by the NPCSC in December 2007 has made clear the universal suffrage timetable for Hong Kong, i.e. the CE may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 and the LegCo may be elected by universal suffrage in 2020. Also, the two electoral methods for 2012 can be made more democratic.
In attaining universal suffrage, the objective of the current-term HKSAR Government is to determine, within the framework of the NPCSC's 2007 decision, the two electoral methods for 2012 by injecting new democratic elements into the electoral arrangements, so as to pave the way for implementing universal suffrage.
The public consultation on the 2012 electoral arrangements concluded on February 19. We are now consolidating and analysing the views received, before formulating our proposed package for the 2012 elections, in the hope that the package will be acceptable to different political parties and sectors.
We recognise that the existing electoral method for returning the LegCo functional constituency (FC) seats has yet to comply with the principles of universal suffrage. As to how the FCs should be dealt with in future, we have already made it clear that any universal suffrage model for the LegCo in 2020 should comply with the Basic Law and the principles of universal and equal suffrage.
On the relationship of the executive authorities and the legislature, the Basic Law clearly stipulates the respective powers and responsibilities of the executive authorities and the legislature. Under the Basic Law, the executive authorities and the legislature should both complement, and keep a check and balance on, each other's functions. Any bills and budgets must be put forth by the Government and approved by the LegCo. Article 64 of the Basic Law provides that the HKSAR Government must abide by the law and be accountable to the LegCo: it shall implement laws passed by the LegCo and already in force; it shall present regular policy addresses to the LegCo; it shall answer questions raised by LegCo members; and it shall obtain approval from the LegCo for taxation and public expenditure.
In formulating and implementing policies, the executive authorities must take full account of public opinion to ensure that the policies are reasonable and consistent with policy objectives. On this basis, the executive authorities have placed importance on the LegCo as an important channel for reflecting opinions of the community, and have been supporting the work of the legislature. The executive authorities and the legislature will continue to act in accordance with the Basic Law.
The HKSAR Government is committed to combating racial discrimination and promoting equal opportunities for ethnic minorities. The Race Discrimination Ordinance came into full operation in July 2009. The Equal Opportunities Commission, an independent statutory body, is accorded the responsibility to implement the Ordinance.
We are finalising a set of Administrative Guidelines on the Promotion of Racial Equality to provide guidance to relevant bureaux, departments and public bodies to promote racial equality and ensure equal access by ethnic minorities to public services in key areas.
The Government also attaches much importance to providing support measures to ethnic minorities. Four support service centres have been established in 2009 to provide services to ethnic minorities, providing language and integration programmes with a view to facilitate the integration of ethnic minorities into the community. A centralised telephone interpretation service is provided by one of the centres to assist ethnic minorities in their access to public services.
On education of non-Chinese speaking (NCS) students, the Government's policy is to facilitate their early integration into the local education system. In formulating various education support measures to enhance the learning effectiveness of NCS students, views of stakeholders, in particular the ethnic minority groups, have been taken into account. The support measures include the issue of the 'Supplementary Guide to the Chinese Language Curriculum for Non-Chinese Speaking Students', development of learning materials for NCS students, teaching reference materials and assessment tools, providing professional development programmes for teachers, increasing the number of the schools designated for focused support, setting up of the Chinese Language Support Centres to provide programmes after-school, etc. We have also planned to further support the NCS students in the learning of the Chinese Language in the form of provision of after-school extended Chinese learning in non-designated schools and details will be subject to further discussion with relevant stakeholders.
Hong Kong is neither a destination for human trafficking nor a place of origin for exporting illegal migrants. We take all trafficking allegations seriously and are determined to bring to justice those who engage in the practice of human trafficking. Notwithstanding the rare occurrence of human trafficking crimes in Hong Kong, in 2009 we successfully prosecuted three offenders on trafficking offences. Our law enforcement agencies will continue to take effective measures in terms of enforcement, prosecution, prevention and victim protection. We will continued to be vigilant and closely cooperate with our international and regional partners to prevent and combat trafficking activities.
On freedom of the press, the HKSAR Government is firmly committed to protecting the freedom of speech and of the press, and maintaining an environment in which a free and active press can operate under minimum regulation.
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental rights enjoyed by people in the HKSAR. These rights are enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.
Hong Kong has developed a respect for freedom of speech and of the press. As always, the media rigorously performs its role as a watchdog over the Government. It reports freely in Hong Kong, commenting extensively and liberally on local and external matters, and on the policies and work of the Government.
A free press, with rights and freedoms protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance, is the most effective safeguard against self-censorship. Ultimately, those working in the field must protect the integrity of their profession.
The Government attaches great importance to the editorial independence of Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK). This will be enshrined in the Charter to be signed by the Chief Secretary for Administration. The Board of Advisors to be set up will tender advice to RTHK but the ultimate editorial responsibility for RTHK rests with the Director of Broadcasting, just as it does at present. The Board will have no executive power and will not have oversight of the budget of RTHK."
Ends/Friday, March 12, 2010