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Opening remarks by SCMA

     The Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, attended the press conference on the proposals to improve the existing voter registration system this afternoon (December 13). Following is the opening remarks by Mr Tam:
     In the light of the recent public concerns about the voter registration system, we have conducted a review of the existing arrangements and identified areas for improvement.

     We have just submitted a paper to the Panel on Constitutional Affairs (CA Panel) of the Legislative Council, setting out the proposed improvement measures. It will be discussed next Monday, December 19. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a few key points.

     In considering possible improvement measures, we are guided by a number of principles.

     Firstly, we attach great importance to the integrity, fairness and openness of elections.

     Secondly, the voting right is a fundamental right and voter registration is voluntary. The proposed improvement measures aim at preventing voter mistakes or fraud in order to protect the fairness and credibility of elections. At the same time, they should not unreasonably deprive the permanent residents of Hong Kong of the voting right enjoyed under the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

     Thirdly, the proposed improvement measures should be feasible while not creating undue nuisance and disturbance to the public.

     And fourthly, in view of the volume of new applications and applications on change of particulars every year, and the tight time frame of the annual voter registration cycle, there is a need to strike a proper balance in the scope and intensity of checking, the period of public inspection and the resource implications.

     Having regard to these guiding principles, we have proposed a number of measures to improve the existing voter registration system. I have to stress that these are the proposed measures that we will put forward to the Legislative Council. We will listen to the views of the Members next Monday and see if these proposals need to be further adjusted.

     The first proposal is to introduce a requirement that when a person applies for registration as a geographical constituency elector or when a registered elector applies for change of his residential address, he should provide address proof as standard supporting evidence at the same time. The Registration and Electoral Office (REO) will accept address proof commonly used by the general public, including electricity, water and gas bills, and the correspondence issued by the Government, banks, recognised organisations such as universities, etc. For a person who does not have address proof to provide, the REO will also accept the address proof of another inhabitant who resides in the same address. But that inhabitant should furnish a signed declaration to prove that they reside in the same residential address. An alternative is for the person to make a statutory declaration before a Commissioner, a solicitor or a Justice of the Peace for oaths that he resides at the residential address he provides.

     On this, we will work with the Legislative Council on whether and how to take forward the necessary legislative amendments. Before any amendment is made to the relevant legislation, subject to the views of the CA Panel next week, we plan to implement the address proof requirement on an administrative basis first. We plan to commence the arrangement on January 1, 2012, in order to tighten the system as soon as possible.

     The second proposal is about the enhanced checking performed by the REO. On top of checking addresses with seven or more electors, the REO will step up the effort by adding new parameters, such as when the number of surnames of electors in an address exceeds a certain figure, say four.

     There will also be random sampling checks on the current final register. We will strive to achieve three targets in respect of the enhanced checking. Firstly, it can cover around 3 to 5 per cent of the electors on the final register. That is about 100,000 to 180,000 electors out of the 3.56 million registered electors at present. Secondly, it can cover all the 412 District Council Constituency Areas. Thirdly, the parameters for sampling should be reasonable, effective, and scientific. On this, the REO will seek the professional advice of the Census and Statistics Department.

     In conducting the random sampling checks on voter registration, and the follow-up checks on undelivered poll cards, electors will be asked to provide address proof. We will refer any suspicious cases to law enforcement agencies for follow-up.

     The third proposal is to consider introducing legislative amendments to require electors to report changes of registered address, and to introduce sanction for registered electors who fail to report change of address before the statutory deadline and subsequently vote at an election afterwards. We will examine the relevant legislation carefully, and take into account the opinion of various parties, including the Legislative Council.

     The fourth proposal is to step up publicity measures to drive home the messages on honest and clean elections and to promote public awareness of the new arrangements. We plan to send a letter to all of the 3 million electors early next year, say February. The letter will appeal to them to update their residential addresses if there is any change and explain to them the new requirement on address proof. It will be complemented by other publicity measures such as Announcements in the Public Interest and newspaper advertisements.

     The fifth proposal is an additional measure. The REO is liaising with the Buildings Department and the Rating and Valuation Department to conduct checking in the coming months on the list of buildings which have been demolished recently and buildings which will be demolished soon. This will help identify electors who may not have reported change in their addresses.

     All of the above new measures will incur a lot of work for the REO. For this, the REO has set up a special team headed by a Deputy Chief Electoral Officer to take forward the work. The Administration will provide the necessary resources to the REO.

     I must reiterate that the Administration attaches utmost importance to safeguarding a clean and honest voter registration system. The number of proposals may cause inconvenience to the public and we hope the public would understand. The REO and the law enforcement agencies will handle any suspicious cases seriously and tackle any offence cases in accordance with the law.

Ends/Tuesday, December 13, 2011