|CAB Does More with Less
The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam today (March 24) presented the work priorities of the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB) at the Legislative Council Special Finance Committee meeting. Mr Lam emphasised that whilst the CAB's civil service establishment would be reduced by 10 per cent, it would continue with its existing work and would be taking on additional tasks.
Mr Lam said that since July 1 last year, the CAB had dealt with five major issues :
First, the CAB proposed increasing by 10 the number of directly elected District Council seats, and put forward an amendment bill. The bill was supported and passed by the Legislative Council (LegCo).
Second, the CAB put forward a bill to provide for the 2004 LegCo elections. The bill proposed that there should be five geographical constituencies, with each constituency having between four and eight seats. The proposal was aimed at facilitating political parties, political groups and independent candidates in carrying out their work in, and maintaining contact with, their constituencies.
Third, the CAB proposed the provision of financial assistance for LegCo election candidates as a means to encourage more independent candidates as well as political parties and political groups to run for LegCo elections. The financial assistance would be $10 for each valid vote obtained by a candidate.
Fourth, the CAB suggested the Electoral Affairs Commission revisit the proposal of printing the photos of candidates or the names and emblems of their supporting organizations on the ballot papers.
Fifth, the CAB had started in 2003 internal study on the 2007 constitutional development review. Mr Lam made clear that there would be public consultation in 2004 or 2005. He hoped that local legislation could be dealt with in 2006.
Mr Lam believed that the work outlined above had met the various demands and expectations of LegCo Members and political groups. The CAB would pursue its work in a pragmatic and progressive manner.
In response to a suggestion by the Hon Emily Lau that resources for the CAB should be reduced by 60 per cent. Mr Lam said that Ms Lau was expressing her political views rather than measuring resources against work required.
Mr Lam said that all bureaux and departments had to achieve three objectives :
(1) to ensure that the implementation of the accountability system was cost neutral;
(2) to reduce overall Government operating expenditure from $220 billion to $200 billion between now and 2006-07; and
(3) to reduce the civil service establishment by 10 per cent.
Mr Lam said that, to meet these objectives, the CAB had taken the following measures :
(1) to re-rank the Permanent Secretary post from D8 to D6;
(2) to freeze one Principal Assistant Secretary post at D2 level as from mid 2003; and
(3) to delete one Administrative Officer post as from mid 2003.
The relevant duties of the latter two affected posts would be re-distributed to other officers in the Bureau.
Mr Lam believed that the savings achieved through these three measures alone would be sufficient to offset the CAB's additional expenditure arising from the implementation of the accountability system.
In addition, depending on the effect of the second phase of the Voluntary Retirement programme, the CAB had plans to reduce its establishment in 2004-05 from 48 posts to 43 posts, representing a reduction of 10.2 per cent.
Mr Lam said that, overall speaking, the Bureau would prudently manage its resources, and spend strictly according to needs when carrying out its work.
He also explained that Government's decision to retain the CAB when introducing the accountability system was because of the importance the Government attached to constitutional development. The need to fully implement the Basic Law and to maintain "one country two systems" were also important considerations.
He said that since the reunification, the CAB had taken on several new duties including :
(1) providing secretarial support for the Hong Kong/Guangdong Cooperation Joint Conference;
(2) coordinating Government's liaison with Taiwan organisations in Hong Kong; and
(3) coordinating the policy on and implementation of the accountability system.
Mr Lam said that, in addition, as with all other policy bureaux, the CAB had to cut back its manpower in view of the budget deficit. All the work mentioned above were handled with reduced resources. He believed that the CAB's arrangements were responsible and reasonable.
End/Monday, March 24, 2003