South China Morning Post, February 19, 2002

Listen to us and learn, Mr. Tung


By Martin Lee

The nomination period of candidates contesting the election of the chief executive only began on Friday, but everyone in Hong Kong already knows the result of that election ¡V or rather, non-election.

For at 5pm on February 28 ¡V the end of the nomination period ¡V it is certain there will be only one candidate who has nominations from at least 100 of the 800 members of the Election Committee, as is required in order to stand. That candidate will be Tung Chee-hwa, who will be officially declared the Chief Executive for another five-year term.

In spite of great efforts on the part of Mr. Tung and his team of advisers to drum up some public interest, the ¡§election¡¨ will be as exciting as a dead duck. The Democratic Party therefore thought it proper that I should move an adjournment debate on February 6 so that members of the Legislative Council would at least have an opportunity to evaluate Mr. Tung¡¦s performance in the past four and a half years as the Chief Executive.

About half of the legislators spoke at the debate, and the Chief Secretary for the Administration, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, replied on behalf of the Government at its conclusion. The next day, Mr. Tung attended a question-and-answer session before the Legco.

According to a South China Morning Post report of the session: ¡§Tung Chee-hwa broke from protocol yesterday and launched a scathing personal attack on the Democratic Party¡¦s leader during one of the Chief Executive¡¦s rare appearances before legislators ¡K¡¨

Mr. Tung was quoted as saying: ¡§Our culture is changing. Mr Lee, you only criticise without offering solutions ¡K It's no solution if there are only criticisms. It's not in anyone's interest to keep bad-mouthing Hong Kong ¡K¡¦

The report said Mr. Tung ¡§used his opening address in the Legco chamber to hit back at Mr. Lee instead of focusing on issues like unemployment or the economy.¡¨ That was a fair and correct assessment. Mr. Tung did break from protocol, because the debate over his performance had concluded the previous day with the Chief Secretary¡¦s speech on behalf of the Government.

If Mr. Tung had so chosen, he could have made the speech himself and defended his own performance in his own way. But he should not have unilaterally extended the Government¡¦s reply on my motion during a question-and-answer session the following day, because his own performance was no longer on the agenda.

But what concerns me, and perhaps many in Hong Kong, is not so much whether Mr. Tung abused his position in the question-and-answer session, but his statement that ¡§our culture is changing¡¨, suggesting a legislator who criticises the Chief Executive or his Government without offering solutions is ¡§bad-mouthing Hong Kong¡¨.

The political structure in Hong Kong is unique. There is no governing party here, even though a particular party may win a majority of seats in the legislature in future. In the colonial days, it was the governor appointed by the queen who formed the government. Since 1997, it is the chief executive appointed by Beijing who forms the government.

So every political party in Hong Kong is in opposition. But unlike the opposition parties in democratic countries, which can win the next election and be in government, all political parties in Hong Kong are in opposition forever.

In democratic countries, the opposition party is expected to come up with an alternative proposal whenever it challenges the government, so that the voters can make up their minds as to which is the most capable party. But in Hong Kong, all political parties are asked by the Government to support its proposals, whether it is in the form of a government bill or an item of expenditure, although very often the parties have not been consulted before the proposals are put forward.

So what is the role of a legislator in Hong Kong? The Government will surely want the legislators to simply support every proposal it makes. In other words, ¡§rubber-stamp legislators¡¨ are seen as the most constructive and are most appreciated.

But the public expects all legislators to study every government proposal with care, to support only those which are truly good for the community, and vote against those which they think are not beneficial. In situations where the Democratic Party considers that there is a better proposal, we propose an alternative. For example, the Democratic Party opposed the Government¡¦s proposal that Beijing should be invited to reinterpret the Basic Law after the Court of Final Appeal had ruled against the Director of Immigration in the 1999 right-of-abode case, and suggested the relevant article of the Basic Law be amended instead, in keeping with the common law system which applies to Hong Kong.

But in other situations, no alternative can be proposed, such as when the Government simply does something wrong. The Democratic Party will then criticise or even condemn the Government ¡V as in the Cyberport saga, when the Government abandoned its well-established policy of selling land by public auction and directly sold a prime residential site at Pokfulam to Richard Li Tzar-kai, the son of Li Ka-shing, a former business associate of the Chief Executive.

In the adjournment debate on February 6, the theme was to look back on how the Chief Executive had performed in office; and because of time restrictions, legislators were expected only to support or criticise him. I certainly criticised him, and as I had more time, being the mover of the debate, I gave my reasons for doing so.

On the following day, Mr.Tung openly accused me of having ¡§distorted facts¡¨. But he did not explain what facts I was supposed to have distorted in respect of the criticisms I made in my speech.

These criticisms included the reinterpretation of the Basic Law, the non-prosecution of media tycoon Sally Aw Sian despite her being named as a co-conspirator in fraud charges faced by others, the sale of the Pokfulam prime site by private treaty, and the counter-democratic steps he took by abolishing the two municipal councils without transferring their powers to the District Councils.

I have served the people of Hong Kong as an elected legislator since 1985, apart from one year when the provisional legislative council was appointed by Beijing to replace the legislature elected in 1995. The only ¡§culture¡¨ I know of and subscribe to is to support the Government when it is right and to oppose and/or criticise it when it is wrong.

No doubt, Mr. Tung would like to change this culture. He would like the Legislative Council to support him whether he is right or wrong. He would like all legislators to keep their mouths shut for fear of being condemned as ¡§bad-mouthing Hong Kong¡¨.

But the Democratic Party will do everything within its power to uphold the existing culture and call upon the people of Hong Kong to support us. In the meantime, we can only hope that the Chief Executive will in his second term learn to accept he does not have the mandate of the people of Hong Kong and therefore be more prepared to listen to their elected representatives in the Legislative Council.

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