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Transcript of SCA's briefing after LegCo's motion debate

Following is the transcript (English portion) of a standup briefing to the media by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, after attending the Legislative Council meeting this evening (November 30)

Reporter: Mr Lam, first of all you mentioned that you were quite worried about the situation in Canada and the UK in the past, which had faced some long-term deficit problems. Are you also concerned that Hong Kong will have similar situation if we have universal suffrage now?

SCA: Let me clarify. According to the Basic Law, the introduction of universal suffrage is the ultimate aim for our constitutional development. It is also provided for in the Basic Law that we should keep public finances in balance and that we should maintain a low tax rate structure. Therefore, in moving towards the ultimate goal of universal suffrage, I think we need to take into account in future when we introduce, say a universal suffrage legislature, how we can make sure that we will continue to maintain prudent public finances and resist pressure for raising the tax rates of Hong Kong to a level which goes beyond the current low tax rate structure. I think these are matters which we need to explore. I believe that the Hong Kong community, the legislature, and the Hong Kong Government will all be very prudent. We believe in competition. We believe in a free market. And I am sure that these principles have wide support among the public.

Reporter: But, at the same time are you also concerned that we will be like Canada and the UK, which have faced some long-term budget deficit?

SCA: I believe that when we introduce wider universal suffrage type of elections, there will naturally be more pressure from the public for demands which place on the Government for more services and welfare benefits. And these are matters which we need to consider very prudently as a community, and in designing the system for universal suffrage for returning the Chief Executive (CE) and the legislature. These are matters which we need to discuss, but I have full confidence in the ability of the Hong Kong community to deal with these aspects, and the electoral aspects of introducing universal suffrage.

Reporter: On another issue, you also mentioned that you believed this Government was the one that had tried hardest in promoting universal suffrage. In what way do you think...?

SCA: I would say that in the last 20 years, ever since we first introduced indirect elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in 1985, this is the first administration in Hong Kong which takes a truly progressive view of the introduction of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. We are the administration which has formed the Commission on Strategic Development to design a road map for introducing universal suffrage. The CE announced yesterday that he would like to draw some conclusions on the forms of the election of CE and the legislature by early 2007 for introducing universal suffrage eventually. We are also prepared to use the design of the road map for introducing universal suffrage, to explore the timetable for achieving that ultimate aim. So we are being extremely progressive.

Furthermore, for 2007 and 2008, we have put forth a package of proposals which enhances the electorate base for returning the CE and returning the fourth LegCo by using the position of District Councillors. Through doing this, we are incorporating the electorate base of three million people into the electorate base of the functional constituencies and the Election Committee.

Reporter: But despite arguing that this is like the first government that has tried to do its very best to prepare for universal suffrage, still there is no timetable and very little mention on as to when a timetable on universal suffrage will be in place. Could you just say a little bit more about when we will have a timetable on universal suffrage and when we will have universal suffrage?

SCA: I think it is very necessary for our community to discuss both within the LegCo and outside the LegCo, what form of universal suffrage can be introduced. We need to have two-thirds majority in the legislature for introducing any constitutional change to our electoral systems. Therefore, how we manage the introduction of universal suffrage for the LegCo eventually is a matter on which we need to have thorough discussions. We need to have consensus between the members who are returned by the geographical constituencies and members who represent the functional constituencies.

Reporter: But you know that is not enough to convince the public.

SCA: I do know that the public have aspirations for the introduction of universal suffrage, and for the adoption of a universal suffrage road map and timetable. What I want to emphasise to the public is that this Government means business. We are starting the necessary work on mapping out a route map towards achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. And on that basis, we can explore the question of forming a universal suffrage timetable.

Reporter: As far as this Sunday's protest is concerned, how do you look at it? Because you seem to have said something like the people who are going to protest can at the same time support the Government's reform package.

SCA: What I would say is that Hong Kong people have very clear views about their own aspirations. As the Government, we fully respect the rights of Hong Kong people to express their opinions either through demonstrations or other means. We will continue to listen very closely and very carefully to the views of public on the question of constitutional development. There is actually no contradiction between supporting this package for 2007/08 because it enhances democratic progress in Hong Kong and pursuing the objective of securing a road map and a timetable for universal suffrage. The Government is actually moving in that direction, and I would say that the distance between the HKSAR Government and the pan-democratic camp is narrowing. We are actually building a consensus, we hope, on what work we need to do for introducing universal suffrage at some stage.

Reporter: Since there is a speech made by the CE and also there will be a gathering organised by Mr Qiao Xiaoyang on Friday, many people think that, in fact, it is a very good gesture. Do you think that the administration could have any room to improve the existing political reform package to satisfy all different parties, and as you mentioned, to reach a consensus before the resolution?

SCA: What I would say is that we have all worked very hard in the last one-and-a-half years to come up with a package which enhances democracy in Hong Kong. We also believe that through incorporating the District Councillors into the electoral systems for returning the CE in 2007 and the LegCo in 2008, we will be making progress. We very much hope that the legislature, Members of the LegCo, will appreciate this very fundamental point. We also understand there is no contradiction whatsoever between supporting the 2007/08 package, and also pursuing at a later stage, the introduction and adoption of a road map and timetable for achieving universal suffrage. So, as far as the current package is concerned, we believe that the room for adjustment is really, very, very narrow. There are very differing views which we have received. All political parties have their interests and their views on this package. And, in order to secure the necessary degree of balance and support for this package, I believe that the room for adjustment is very narrow.
Reporter: What do you think the Chief Executive will make a speech tonight? Is it related to the march on coming Sunday?

SCA: All I would say is that as I have stated in the motion debate in the Legislative Council (LegCo) just now, this Government is the most proactive among all administrations in the last 20 years in terms of pursuing the agenda for achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage. Ever since election was introduced to the LegCo in 1985, we have been discussing the question of pursuing universal suffrage in Hong Kong. This is the first administration that has convened the Commission on Strategic Development to secure and to introduce, to bring together different opinions on the formation of a road map for achieving universal suffrage.

We have also made it clear that we wish to draw some conclusions on the form for introducing universal suffrage, for returning the Chief Executive and for forming the LegCo through that formula by early 2007. We are also quite prepared to use these conclusions as the basis for considering and exploring the adopting of a timetable for achieving universal suffrage. So we are taking very progressive steps, and we wish the members of the legislature would appreciate that this Government is ready and willing to work together with all of them to make democratic progress for Hong Kong.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)
Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2005