RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"

by Martin Lee

Broadcasted on 29 September 2002 on Radio 3, Radio Television Hong Kong

This week has taught me a lot about our government. On Tuesday, 23 September, the richest man in Hong Kong, Cheung Kong chairman, Mr. Li Ka Shing, said the property market has reached rock bottom.

On the same evening, at the Forbes panel discussion, the Chief Executive Mr. Tung said, "The government need to stabilize the falling property prices and if possible to help to push it up a bit. We have the intention. We have the desire to do this. Now the question is to find the right way of doing it." On Wednesday the 24th, the Financial Secretary, Mr. Antony Leung, agreed to take certain measures to help push the property market up a bit. This is followed by a prompt announcement from the Housing Secretary, Mr. Michael Suen, on Thursday the 25th, of the first step taken by the government towards boosting the property market by making it easier for landlords to recover possession of their premises.

The prices of property stocks immediately rose. Cheung Kong Chairman, Mr. Li Ka Shing, and Sun Hung Kai Chairman, Mr. Walter Kwok, duly praised the Government's efforts. But the ailing property market requires, in the words of Mr. Li Ka Shing, "a heavy dosage of medicine". And of course the government always take Mr. Li's suggestions very seriously.

But on the same Thursday 26 September, at a Legislative Council joint panel meeting, on the Government's Proposal to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law, Secretary for Security Mrs. Regina Ip, declined the request of many legislators to consult the public by way of a white bill, containing the full proposals put in legal language so that everyone will have the opportunity of fully understanding what the Government actually proposes to legislate, although she agreed with me that the devil is in the detail. The reason she gave was quite shocking.

She said that the contents of a white bill will be complicated and technical. She asked how many of our 7 million people here would be interested to read the white bill. She further asked whether taxi drivers, restaurant waiters and those who work at the McDonalds would discuss the provision of the bill with her in detail. She insisted that realistically only experts would read the white bill, like legislators, lawyers and academics.

But as a lady caller at the following morning's phone-in radio programme said: " I may not actually read everything. But I'm entitled to be consulted on everything." As for the experts, no legislator or lawyer who has read the Government's proposals knows what the proposed law is going to be -- because the consultation document only contained broad principles and general statements of what the Government proposes to do without giving any specifics. The result is neither the expert nor the man in the street knows what the Government is up to.

But there is a more serious problem. When asked how much Beijing had been consulted over the proposed legislation, Mrs Ip said quite nonchalantly that the Hong Kong Government and the Central Government had reached consensus not only on the time-table of the proposed legislation, namely, that the whole legislating process ought to be completed by next July, but also on contents, though only in principle and that the legal technicalities and detailed implementation would have to be worked out in the Hong Kong SAR. She insisted that it would only be right for the Hong Kong Government to consult Beijing on the mainland concepts of national security, secession and unity. But clearly the Government has given up the autonomy of legislating our own laws under Article 23 of the Basic Law, which provides that the HKSAR shall enact those law "on its own".

As I pointed out at the Joint Panel meeting, it is inconceivable that the Government could have made those proposals without reaching full agreement with Beijing because one of the proposals touches on a very sensitive area of "acts of state' provided in Article 19 of the Basic Law. Further, my suspicion was confirmed when the spokesman of the State Ministry in Beijing fully endorsed the Government's proposals on the very day of the release of the consultation document.

Thus, this consultation exercise is a sham. The ordinary people are not expected to have any views - although they are all going to be affected by these proposals not as potential traitors of course, but their right to information from newspapers and magazine is definitely going to suffer on account of, for example, the proposed enhanced protection given to a new class of protected information: "relations between the Central Authorities of the PRC and the HKSAR" - and the proposed new power of search without a warrant given the police. The so-called experts are kept in the dark because they are not given the actual proposed provisions of the bill. Then the agreement with Beijing will mean that no suggestion from the public, no matter how good, will be accepted by the Government without Beijing's further agreement.

What the Government wants to have is the general uninformed support of the public, so that the Government could ease the conscience of the 40 pro-Beijing legislators and secure their support for the blue bill when it is presented to the Legislative Council early next year and also to shut the mouths of foreign diplomats who may express concern over this controversial article of the Basic Law.

But our people are not to be taken for a ride. A public opinion survey published in the Ming Pao Daily on Thursday showed that 41.3% of the people polled were against the Government enacting laws to prohibit subversion of the Central People's Government and secession, while only 34.6% were in favour.

But the Government can and will ignore the public - because it can always count on the majority of the non-democratically elected legislators in the Council. The question is: how much longer will our people tolerate a government not of the people, not by the people, but for the richest people.

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