|Speech by SCA in moving the second reading of the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2006
Following is the speech (English translation) by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in moving the second reading of the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2006 in the Legislative Council today (December 20):
I move that the District Councils (Amendment) Bill 2006 be read the second time.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide a legal basis to implement the financial assistance scheme for District Council ("DC") election candidates by amending the District Councils Ordinance.
Financial assistance for election candidates was first introduced in the 2004 Legislative Council ("Legco") election. Its aim is to encourage more public-spirited candidates to participate in public elections, and to cultivate an environment to facilitate the participation of political parties, political bodies and independent candidates in public elections. The scheme is welcomed by candidates and political parties. For the 2004 Legco election, the Registration and Electoral Office ("REO") received 47 applications for financial assistance from candidates. The total amount of financial assistance provided was around $14 million.
There have been calls by political groups and parties to extend the financial assistance scheme to DC elections. We consulted the Legco Panel on Constitutional Affairs ("the Legco Panel") in April this year on our proposal to introduce a financial assistance scheme for DC election candidates. The proposal was generally supported by the Panel. We subsequently consulted the public on the proposal during the public consultation on the Review on the Role, Functions and Composition of DCs ("DC Review") held between April and July 2006. There was broad support for the proposal.
After considering the views received from the Legco Panel and the public, we have worked out the details of the financial assistance scheme and have drafted the Bill accordingly.
Major Provisions of the Bill
I would now like to highlight the major provisions in the Bill.
(1) Amount of Financial Assistance Payable to Candidates
The Bill proposes that, in a contested DC constituency, winning candidate or a candidate who receives 5% of valid votes or more will receive financial assistance at a rate of $10 per vote, capped at 50% of the declared election expenses of the candidate. In respect of a candidate who is elected uncontested, the amount of financial assistance payable is the amount obtained by multiplying 50% of the number of registered electors for the constituency concerned by $10, capped by 50% of the declared election expenses of the candidate.
The above formula is basically the same as the one adopted in the existing financial assistance scheme for LegCo election candidates. The only difference is that the existing financial assistance scheme for Legco election candidates also stipulates that the amount of financial assistance payable to a candidate is capped by the difference between the declared election expenses and the declared election donations of a candidate.
During discussion with the Legco Panel and the public consultation on DC Review, there were views that if, in calculating the amount of financial assistance payable to a candidate, the election expenses incurred by the candidate had to be net of any donation received by him, the candidate would be discouraged from obtaining donations and sponsorship from political parties or other individuals. There were therefore proposals that the election donations received by a candidate should not be taken into account in calculating the amount of financial assistance receivable by the candidate.
On the Government front, after careful consideration, we decide to take on board the suggestion of excluding election donations from the formula for calculating the amount of financial assistance payable to a DC election candidate. The Bill will also make similar amendments in respect of the financial assistance scheme for Legco election candidates. If the total amount of financial assistance and election donations received by a candidate is larger than his election expenses, any such "surplus" financial assistance may be used by the candidate for his future political or community work, or it may be expended generally as a token recognition of his efforts in elections. Over the long term, this arrangement should be conducive to the development of political groups and parties in Hong Kong, and will also encourage independent candidates to participate in public elections.
(2) Auditing Requirement
The existing financial assistance scheme for Legco election candidates requires each applicant to submit an auditor’s report on the accounts of his election expenses and donations. The auditing fees, which are not counted as part of election expenses, are shouldered by the Legco election candidates themselves.
Due to the considerable difference in the electorate size between a DC election constituency and a Legco election constituency, the amount of financial assistance received by a DC election candidate will be much smaller than that received by a Legco election candidate. Applying the statistics in the 2003 DC election, the average amount of financial assistance payable to a candidate would be around $10,000. If mandatory auditing requirement is imposed on the DC election candidates who apply for financial assistance, the auditing fee may be up to a few thousand dollars and will take up a significant proportion of the financial assistance payable to each candidate. This will undermine the objective of the scheme.
In view of this, we propose not to require DC election candidates who apply for financial assistance to submit to REO auditor’s reports on their accounts of election expenses. To safeguard public expenditure, REO will endeavour to check whether the election returns submitted by the applicants comply with the relevant requirements. Where necessary, REO will require the applicants to provide further information. For cases which more in-depth checking is required, REO will refer such cases to an outside audit firm for further checking. The auditing expenses will be borne by REO. The Chief Electoral Officer will effect payment of financial assistance to the applicants concerned only after he is satisfied that the returns submitted by the applicants have set out accurately all the election expenses incurred by the applicants.
Madam President, with these remarks, I hope Members will support the Bill and pass it as soon as possible, so as to enable the Electoral Affairs Commission to make the relevant regulation to provide for the detailed operational procedures of the scheme and to enable the implementation of the scheme in time for the DC election in end 2007.
Thank you, Madam President.
Ends/Wednesday, December 20, 2006