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SCMA speaks to the media

     Following is the transcript of remarks (English portion) by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, to the media after attending the Legislative Council Panel on Constitutional Affairs meeting today (February 20):

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The Government has today issued the Public Consultation Paper on the District Council Appointment System. The main purpose of our consultation paper is to consult the general public on whether we should abolish the District Council appointment system in one go in 2016. We have listed several reasons or rationales in the consultation paper. For example, we consider that by 2017, we can have universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive (CE). Therefore, if we can abolish the appointment system in one go by 2016, that would be more consistent and more conducive to the development of our constitutional structure, including our democratic development as well. Also, I guess, for those district personalities who have the necessary expertise and who have the enthusiasm to serve the community, they can continue to do so through other means and through other existing channels as well. So, considering all these factors, the Government has today announced our policy preference to abolish the appointment system in one go in 2016. So, it will be just one step before us that we will like to hear once again the general public's opinion before we formally put forward this proposal to the next CE.

     I guess if the next CE should accept our proposal, the best way to move forward is to amend the relevant legislation so that the whole system can have the necessary legislative basis to confirm the proposal to abolish the system. So, the timetable will be as such, and we would like to encourage the various sectors of the community to forward to us their opinions, so that we can make a very considered view to the next CE.

Reporter: Mr Tam, regarding the 27 ex-officio seats, why are you not abolishing them together with the 68 appointed seats? Is this proposal still too late?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: In the past, the focus was mainly on the 102 appointed seats of the District Council. I guess the main reason is because, first of all, the 27 ex-officio members are actually Rural Committee Chairmen. They themselves have individually gone through an election procedure under the relevant ordinance. In a way, they are elected members first of all, and by their election to the office, then they will have this ex-officio status. So, they are quite different from the appointed members in a way that they have to go through some sort of election system themselves before they can become ex-officio members.

Reporter: But those constituencies are very small ....

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: I fully agree. That is why at the panel meeting just now, I also encouraged concerned members of the Legislative Council, and indeed the general public, if they feel quite strongly about whether we should do it in one go as well for the 27 ex-officio members, to give views in this respect, and we would certainly consolidate those views in our consultation report. We will equally make suggestion to the next CE on how to go about these ex-officio members. If and when we should do an opinion poll - we are still considering that - but if we were to do an opinion poll, we would not mind to include this question as well in our opinion survey. But during the two months' consultation period, if we also receive views in this regard, we will certainly put that forward as well to the next CE.

Reporter: On democratic change, will you be really explicit? What will be the first year the Government will likely see a fully elected, democratic District Council?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: For the current-term Administration, it is certainly our policy inclination to see the abolition of the entire appointment system of the District Council in one go in 2016. We have quite clearly spelt that out in the consultation paper. But of course, the final decision has to rest with the next CE, and indeed the next-term Legislative Council who will be returned in September this year.

     Regarding your first question, I personally do not want to comment on whether we are late or otherwise. The most important element in our view is that, before the CE is to be elected by universal suffrage, the District Council appointment system should be abolished. That is our inclination.

Reporter: Mr Tam, with no inclination on the ex-officio seats, are you concerned that you are leaving the door open and entail the public to say that you are trying to still put a clamp and control the District Council on how they are actually to be formed, because the Rural Committees are not really properly elected?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: First of all, for the present-day Government, there is no question of whether or how we can control anyone. This is certainly not the case. But to put it objectively, if you purely look at the numbers, now we have 412 directly elected District Council members; we only have 27 ex-officio members. Purely from the huge difference in numbers, no one could ever suggest that. The 27 ex-officio members are not concentrated in one single District Council. They are actually disbursed in various New Territories District Councils. So I do not agree that there is any question of control or otherwise. But as I say, it is only fair for the Government to keep an open mind on the whereabouts of these ex-officio members because in the past the community has not gone through any detailed discussions or debate on this particular category of District Council members. So it would be only fair for us to keep an open mind, not to close the door but not to open the door, but to keep the option open. Should we receive relevant and quite strong comments or strong views in this regard, we certainly would faithfully reflect those to the next CE.

Reporter: Mr Tam, can nominators actually change their nominations if the candidate that they supported has withdrawn from the race? And if they could, can they delay the period in a week or so? Is there any length for that "defrozen period"?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: The key is the cut-off date of February 29. Before that, any candidate can actually withdraw from the election and thereby all his or her nominations will be, if I may use this term, "defrozen" and can be used for nominating other candidates. But that will have to be done before February 29. That is my first part of the answer.

     Answer number two is that, if those nominations have not yet been delivered to the Registration and Electoral Office, we will not regard those signed forms as having any official status. As long as those nominations have not been delivered to the REO, those nominations are not regarded as official nominations per se, and therefore have no restriction whatsoever for one way or another.

Reporter: How long is the "defrozen period"? Say, a week or three days?

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs: No. For example, Candidate A has got 150 nominations today and tomorrow he decides to withdraw from the race. Then his 150 nominations can be used by Candidate B within the nomination period. But after the nomination period is closed, i.e. February 29, no one can do anything.

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

Ends/Monday, February 20, 2012