South China Morning Post, Tuesday 14 April 2002

Tung takes a back seat



By Martin Lee

Anywhere around the world in the 21st century, the term ¡§accountable government¡¨ has only one meaning ¡V a government that is accountable to the people it governs. That is, anywhere except in Hong Kong.

There can be little doubt that as early as 1984, the Central Government already promised the people of Hong Kong in the draft Sino-British Joint Declaration that there would be an accountable government in the SAR when China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.

That promise was encapsulated in these words: ¡§The chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election ¡K held locally and be appointed by the Central People¡¦s Government. Principal officials (equivalent to Secretaries) shall be nominated by the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and appointed by the Central People¡¦s Government. The legislature of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be constituted by elections. The executive authorities shall abide by the law and shall be accountable to the legislature.¡¨

In short, an elected chief executive who heads the SAR Government is to be accountable to an elected legislature.

That was why as early as 1985 when I first became a legislator, I said there could not be a meaningful system of accountability until and unless the people could elect the chief executive and all members of the legislature by democratic means.

Witness the farce over the recent re-election of Tung Chee-hwa for a second term of office. After openly seeking and securing the overt support of leaders in Beijing, Mr. Tung announced his intention to run for a second term. He then quickly obtained nomination from more than 700 out of 800 members of the Election Committee to ensure that no one else would get enough votes to qualify as a candidate.

The clear intervention of Beijing leaders was a blatant violation of the promise of ¡§one country, two systems¡¨ and other principles of autonomy enshrined in the Joint Declaration. But it also told the people of Hong Kong and the rest of the world that our leader is the Chief Puppet of Beijing who cannot be relied on to defend the rights and aspirations of our people.

Tomorrow, Mr. Tung will address Legco on the so-called accountability system that he referred to in his policy addresses in 2000 and last year.

But I cannot find from these policy addresses and his speech on December 13 last year when he announced his decision to run for a second term, indications that accountability is anything other than making all the ministers or bureau directors accountable to Mr. Tung himself. In other words, they will be nominated and removed by the Central People¡¦s Government solely on the recommendation of Mr. Tung.

Indeed, in his December speech, Mr. Tung emphasised that ¡§through a more accountable system, senior officials will become more answerable in their service of the community.¡¨ In other words, if any of his ministers or bureau directors have not served the community well, then he or she will be removed even though it was the Chief Executive who introduced the policy in the first place.

Under the new system, for example, Mr. Tung will not take the blame for his plan to provide 85,000 new housing units a year, which has proved to be a complete failure. Instead, his housing policy chief would be held responsible.

What a very convenient and marvellous system of accountability for Mr. Tung! It reminds me of days gone by, when a Chinese emperor readily executed his ministers for his own errors.

No wonder the salaries of our ministers have to be increased.

But a word of caution for Mr. Tung and his enthusiastic supporters in Government and in the Legislative Council: when the ministerial system of government was first mentioned many years ago, Lu Ping, then director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, roundly condemned it as being contrary to the Basic Law. For Article 103 provides: ¡§Hong Kong¡¦s previous system of recruitment, employment, assessment, discipline, training and management for the public service ¡K pay and conditions of service, shall be maintained¡K.¡¨ This is an important factor that the Legislative Council must address.

As a former member of the Drafting Committee of the Basic Law and a legislative councillor since 1985, my principal concern has been the implementation of the promise in the Joint Declaration to introduce genuine accountability into our Government. This is to safeguard the freedoms, rights and interests of our people by their elected chief executive and elected legislators.

During Mr. Tung¡¦s first term of office, his biggest failing was in not developing democracy. Not only did he fail to take Hong Kong forward, he has actually led it backwards by, for example, re-introducing appointed seats in the provisional municipal councils ¡V which he later abolished ¡V and the district councils. Even during his re-election campaign he failed to mention when or how he would prepare the SAR for democracy.

Mr. Tung knows what he is doing. He knows that he has no mandate from the people he governs. He also knows that all public opinion surveys in the last 10 years show that the people of Hong Kong want democracy as soon as possible.

So instead of giving the people what they really want he pretends to give them ¡§accountable¡¨ government.

But the simple truth is there cannot be genuine accountability in our government without democracy. Mr. Tung and his minions should therefore devote their time and energy in bringing democracy to Hong Kong rather than to introduce a sham system in which the ministers are only accountable to him.

Mr. Tung, please do not insult the intelligence of the people of Hong Kong by pretending that your proposal has anything to do with ¡§accountable government.¡¨

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