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Transcript of SCA's standup briefing (English only)

Following is the transcript of the standup briefing given by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after attending the Legislative Council Panel on Constitutional Affairs meeting this (July 31) afternoon (English only):

Reporter: Mr Lam, can you tell us more about the problem of conflict of interest? What is the concept that concerns here?

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: When we introduced the system of political appointment for Policy Secretaries of the Government in 2002, we emphasised very much that it was important to avoid conflict of interest in the performance of duties by these Government colleagues. We also put together a code of conduct for Principal Officials under the Accountability System. According to that particular set of arrangements, Policy Secretaries of the Government will have to discontinue any connections they have with business organisations or professional firms before they join the Government. Also they need to declare their interests and assets to the Chief Executive (CE). There is a set of declarations which are open to the public and conveyed to the Legislative Council (LegCo).

In future, we will expect that Under Secretaries of the Government and Assistants to the Directors of Bureau will also have to comply with such a code of conduct. They will have to discontinue their business or professional connections. They will also have to declare their assets to the public for inspection.

Also, after leaving the Government, there will be a 12-month period during which the Policy Secretaries of the Government or the former Under Secretaries or political appointees should declare to an independent committee chaired by a High Court judge, any prospective appointment, which they intend to take up within 12 months after leaving office, will have to undergo this process.

Reporter: But since this problem that we have here is that these posts are appointed instead of elected, how exactly can the Government be sure that people will not have conflict of interest?

Secretary for Constitutional Affairs: Much in the same way as the US President is elected and thereafter he has full discretion to form his cabinet and put forward political appointments for implementation, the CE of Hong Kong will be returned by election; after completing the election, the CE should have sufficient room and a system available to help him implement his electoral manifesto through forming his own political team. Whoever are nominated to take up these appointments of political positions will become public and political figures. Their very action everyday will be subject to scrutiny by the LegCo, by the media and by the public.

Hong Kong is a very open and transparent society. In the last few years, our system of declaring our interests and our assets to the public on the part of Principal Officials, this system has worked. We believe that a similar system will work for the second and third tiers of political appointees.

Reporter: How about the morale of the civil servants? How will that be affected?

SCA: We believe that it is very important for us to keep for the long term the system of having an apolitical, professional and meritocratic civil service. That is why we are proposing that the whole system of Permanent Secretaries down to entry level should be preserved intact. The establishment of the civil service should not be affected by the establishment of new political positions. If we have two more tiers of political appointees, it should be possible for a future CE and the third-term SAR Government to allow most of the important and pointed political issues to be taken up by Policy Secretaries and Under Secretaries and thereby we should be able to shield civil service colleagues from being exposed to unnecessary political pressures.

Ends/Monday, July 31, 2006