Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 612
(The minutes have been seen
by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PL/SE/1

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Minutes of Policy Briefing held on Thursday, 16 October 1997 at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon CHENG Kai-nam (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Allen LEE, JP
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Henry WU
Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung
Hon CHAN Choi-hi
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon IP Kwok-him
Hon LAU Kong-wah
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon KAN Fook-yee
Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok

Members attending :

Hon WONG Siu-yee
Hon HO Sai-chu, JP

Members absent :

Hon MA Fung-kwok ]
Hon HUI Yin-fat, JP ] other commitments
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP]
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee]

Public Officers : Item I

Mr Peter LAI
Secretary for Security

Mr Raymond WONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 1

Mr Alex FONG
Deputy Secretary for Security 2

Mr Patrick CHAN
Deputy Secretary for Security 3 (Acting)

Mrs Clarie LO
Commissioner for Narcotics

Item II

Mrs Lily YAM
Commissioner, ICAC

Mr Tony KWOK Man-wai
Deputy Commissioner/Head of Operations, ICAC

Ms Janet WONG Wing-chun
Director of Community Relations, ICAC

Mr Thomas CHAN Chi-sun
Director of Corruption Prevention, ICAC

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mrs Justina LAM
Assistant Secretary General 2

Miss Salumi CHAN
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 1

I.Briefing by the Secretary for Security on the Chief Executive's Policy Address
(Policy Programme on Security Bureau)

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 448(01))

Briefing by the Secretary for Security

Secretary for Security advised that the objective of the Security Bureau (SB) was to maintain the security of the local community and to preserve its social stability under the rule of law. It aimed to achieve this objective by maintaining law and order, controlling immigration and protecting life and property from fire and other dangers. Secretary for Security then briefed members on the key features of these three programme areas. A copy of his opening statement was tabled at the meeting.(Post-meeting note : The Secretary for Security's opening statement was issued to absent members after the meeting vide PLC Paper No. CB(2) 448(01).)

DiscussionsDecrease in the overall crime rate

2.Members were pleased to note that the overall crime rate and violent crime rate in 1996 were the lowest in the past 15 years and that in the first eight months of 1997, the overall crime rate and violent crime rate had dropped by 18% and 12% respectively, when compared with the same period in 1996. In view of the drop in crime rate, Mr Henry WU asked why the Administration still envisaged that the problem of prison overcrowding would remain. Secretary for Security responded that apart from the crime rate trend, the Administration had to consider other factors, such as the forecast of the number of persons to be sentenced and the trend of imprisonment terms, in assessing the need for providing more penal places. A yearly forecast was made by the end of each year in this aspect. According to the forecast made at the end of 1996, there would be a shortage of 2,000 to 3,000 penal places in the first few years of the 21st century, notwithstanding the completion of a new prison complex at YAM O by the year 2003.

Domestic violence cases

3.The Chairman expressed concern about the increasing number of domestic violence cases which resulted in the death / injury of spouses or children. She asked whether the Administration had any plans to address the problem. Secretary for Security advised that the Fight Crime Committee had discussed the problem which was to be dealt with by the concerted efforts of the Police and other relevant government departments, such as the Social Welfare Department. Any increase in the number of reported cases of child abuse did not necessarily mean that the situation had become worse as more and more people were willing to come forward to report on such cases. The Chairman suggested to follow-up this subject in future Panel meetings.Clerk

Frontier Closed Area

4.Responding to Mr CHEUNG Hon-chung, Secretary for Security advised that while illegal immigration from China had dropped from 37,000 in 1993 to 23,000 in 1996, the problem still existed. Hence, the Administration considered it necessary to maintain the Frontier Closed Area to give the security forces an effective buffer zone to operate against illegal immigration. As for the development of the land use in the closed area, it would be a matter for the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau to decide.

Improving the efficiency of immigration clearance at Lo Wu

5.Responding to Mr Ambrose LAU, Secretary for Security advised that the Administration had managed to achieve its performance pledge of clearing 92% of passengers through the control points at the airport, ferry terminals and the border within 30 minutes. Despite these achievements, the Administration was exploring ways for further improvement. In the last two years, it conducted a consultancy study to improve the efficiency of immigration clearance at the airport. It would conduct a similar study in 1997-98 in respect of the Macau Ferry Terminal and China Ferry Terminal. After the completion of this study, the Administration would consider the need to conduct a similar study in respect of the cross-boundary control points. At present, the control point at Lok Ma Chau operated round-the-clock. Secretary for Transport was leading an inter-departmental study on the necessity and feasibility of extending the operating hours of the control point at Lo Wu.

6.Mr Ambrose LAU considered it inappropriate to compare the control point at the airport with that at Lo Wu, a very busy crossing point through which Hong Kong people travelled frequently to Shenzhen. He requested the Administration to consider making arrangements to improve the efficiency of immigration clearance at Lo Wu and setting performance pledge in this aspect.Adm

7.Responding to Mr CHENG Kai-nam, Secretary for Security pointed out that the efficiency of immigration clearance at cross-boundary control points was affected by a number of factors such as the procedures involved on the Hong Kong side as well as on the Mainland side, the traffic flow at the control points, etc. The Administration would, through appropriate channels, continue to discuss with the Mainland authorities on how to improve the efficiency.

Application for right of abode from Hong Kong permanent residents' children born out of wedlock

8.Referring to the High Court's ruling on 9 October 1997 that Hong Kong permanent residents' children born out of wedlock were entitled to right of abode in Hong Kong, Mr Kennedy WONG was concerned about the number of children who could apply to stay in Hong Kong from the Mainland through this channel. Secretary for Security advised that such statistics were not available. He was not aware of any applications received from this category of children since the High Court's ruling on 9 October. However, since 1 July 1997, 15 out of the 1,000 or so children who entered (or remained in) Hong Kong illegally were born out of wedlock.

Processing applications for visas to Hong Kong

9.Mr Howard YOUNG said that he had received a number of complaints about the delay of the Immigration Department in processing overseas applications for visas to Hong Kong. He asked whether the Administration would set performance pledge in this aspect. Secretary for Security advised that the Administration adopted a liberal visa policy. Currently, nationals of about 170 countries could visit Hong Kong visa-free while nationals of only about 30 countries were required to apply for visas to Hong Kong. Members who were aware of any delay were welcome to refer the relevant cases to the Administration.

Issues of Vietnamese migrants (VMs), Vietnamese refugees (VRs) and Vietnamese illegal immigrants (VIIs)

10.Secretary for Security's responses to the questions raised by Mr Allen LEE and Mr LAU Kong-wah were summarized as follows :

  1. Resolving the problem of VMs, VRs and VIIs

    The Administration had endeavoured to resolve the problem of VMs, VRs and VIIs. However, the success in resolving the problem would very much depend on the co-operation of foreign countries, such as the co-operation of Vietnam and third countries in accepting respectively the VMs and VRs remaining in Hong Kong. The Administration would also be urging the United Kingdom Government to discharge its moral obligation to assist in reaching a solution to the problem.

  2. Policy review

    The Administration would conduct a review of the overall policy on VMs, VRs and VIIs and would report the progress of the review to the Provisional Legislative Council by the end of 1997. Whether to abolish the port of first asylum policy was a subject to be addressed in the review.

  3. Repatriation of VIIs upon arrest

    According to the Mainland authorities, they could, to a certain extent, repatriate VIIs arrested in the Mainland to Vietnam through the border between the two countries. In considering whether similar arrangements could be made for VIIs arrested in Hong Kong, the Administration had to take into account whether the Hong Kong Government had the legal authority to do so and whether the Vietnamese Government was agreeable to this.

  4. Speeding up the clearance process

    The Administration was discussing with the Vietnamese Government on ways to speed up the clearance process. One of the ways being considered was for the Vietnamese Government to send their officials to Hong Kong to interview the VMs/VIIs. In fact, this method had been adopted in March and April 1997 with positive results.

  5. Recovery of debt owed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Each year, the UNHCR repaid part of the debt to the Hong Kong Government, though representing only a small portion of the total outstanding sum. The UNHCR stated that while it was willing to settle the debt, its ability to repay was restricted by the limited amount of donations received from various countries. Nevertheless, an official of SB was attending the UNHCR ExCom meeting in Geneva, as part of the PRC delegation, to plead the case for Hong Kong.

Illegal workers

11.Responding to Dr LAW Cheung-kwok, Secretary for Security advised that in the past two years, the Administration had endeavoured to tackle the problem of illegal workers and the situation had improved. As far as he knew, the local labour market was not seriously affected by the problem. Most of the illegal workers were illegal immigrants from the Mainland or Vietnam while some were foreign visitors overstaying in Hong Kong. It would be difficult to ascertain the exact number of illegal workers in Hong Kong. However, Secretary for Security undertook to provide for members' reference the relevant statistics in previous years, including the number of illegal workers arrested and the number prosecuted.Adm

II.Briefing by the Commissioner, Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on the Chief Executive's Policy Address
(Policy Programme on ICAC)
Briefing by the Commissioner, ICAC

The Government's commitment to the fight against corruption

12.Commissioner, ICAC pointed out that during the period from January to September 1997, the ICAC had received a total of 2 203 corruption reports. This represented a decrease of 4% over the total number (2 297) received during the same period in 1996. Despite this reduction, the ICAC would continue to combat corruption activities relentlessly. Indeed, as stated in the Policy Address by the Chief Executive, " the SAR Government is committed to the fight against corruption in every area of public and private life. To show that commitment in practice, additional resources will be provided to enable the ICAC to strengthen its investigation and prevention capability. " The ICAC would make full use of the resources to fulfil that commitment.

Major programme areas

13.Commissioner, ICAC briefed members on the four major programme areas of the ICAC - corruption prevention; operations; preventive education; and enlisting support. In particular, she emphasized the following points:

  1. Powers and accountability of the ICAC

    The ICAC Review Committee was appointed by the Governor in 1994 to examine the powers and accountability of the ICAC under the ICAC Ordinance, the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Ordinance. Following recommendations made by the ICAC Review Committee, authorization for the exercise of a number of investigative powers was transferred to the courts in June 1997. Since then, the ICAC had been applying to the courts for search warrants. It welcomed the move to make it a more accountable organization. Moreover, the Operations Review Committee and the ICAC Complaints Committee continued to perform their monitoring role.

  2. Target of investigation

    The ICAC would continue to focus on investigation of corruption activities, some of which might be related to other crimes. During the period from January to September 1997, the ICAC had referred 17 ongoing investigations and 271 reports not related to corruption to other law enforcement authorities.

  3. Undercover operations

    Undercover operations would only be conducted in areas where conventional investigation methods were not effective. The ICAC had prepared a set of detailed operational guidelines endorsed by the Department of Justice. During the process, it would seek legal advice as and when necessary.

  4. Focus of preventive education

    In preventive education, priority would be given to the public service, young people and new comers to Hong Kong. Focus would be placed on the explanation of the anti-corruption laws and the effect of corruption on the community. The public would be assured that the ICAC, being an independent body, would treat all individuals/organizations alike irrespective of their background.

  5. Enhancing the transparency of the ICAC

    The ICAC would continue to increase its transparency and keep the public better informed of its activities, without compromising the need to comply with the law, to protect the privacy of the persons concerned and to ensure that the progress of the investigation was not affected.

The way forward

14.Commissioner, ICAC concluded that in the coming years, the ICAC would meet the challenges ahead through better co-ordination of its prevention, detection and education efforts. It would also enhance its ties with the Mainland and international counterparts. With the support of the community, the ICAC was committed to the fight against corruption.

DiscussionsDecisions on investigation and prosecution

15.Responding to Mr CHENG Kai-nam, Deputy Commissioner/Head of Operations, ICAC advised that the directorate officers of the Operations Department met daily to discuss the corruption complaints received. Normally, investigation would be carried out except for anonymous complaints where there were insufficient details to pursue. After the investigation was completed, those cases with evidence for a suspected offence would be passed to the Department of Justice for a decision on whether prosecution should be instituted. Those cases where the allegation was found to be unsubstantiated or those decided by the Department of Justice that prosecution should not be instituted would be submitted to the Operations Review Committee. Investigation could only be terminated when the Operations Review Committee was satisfied with the action taken. Cross-boundary corruption

16.Responding to Mrs Elsie TU, Commissioner, ICAC said that so far in 1997, the ICAC had received 62 reports of cross-boundary corruption, about 40 of which were related to the private sector. To forestall any increase in cross-boundary corruption, the ICAC was stepping up operational liaison with the Guangdong Provincial People's Procuratorate (GDPP). It also worked closely with the GDPP in the aspects of corruption prevention and community education. In view of the liaison established with the GDPP, the Chairman asked whether the ICAC was able to offer assistance to those Hong Kong people who were victims of corruption activities in the Mainland. Commissioner, ICAC responded that the ICAC was developing a referral system with the GDPP. Generally, reports would be referred only with the consent of the persons concerned.

Liaison with the Mainland authorities and the Hong Kong and Macau Office

17.Mr LAU Kong-wah wondered why the ICAC only established liaison with the GDPP, but not with the authorities of other provinces in the Mainland. Commissioner, ICAC advised that the Supreme People's Procuratorate had formally delegated the responsibility for liaising with the ICAC to the GDPP which served as a channel through which the ICAC could communicate with the other Mainland anti-corruption authorities.

18.Responding to Mr LAU kong-wah, Commissioner, ICAC advised that the ICAC also maintained contact with the Hong Kong and Macau Office. However, the latter was not involved in any operational liaison.

Election of the Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress

19.Responding to Mr Kennedy WONG, Commissioner, ICAC confirmed that the election of the Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress was outside the jurisdiction of the ICAC.

Mainland-funded enterprises

20.As more and more Mainland-funded enterprises set up their offices in Hong Kong, Dr LAW Cheung-kwok was concerned whether the ICAC would target its education efforts at them. Director of Community Relations, ICAC advised that during the past three years, the ICAC had approached all the listed and large private companies in Hong Kong, including Mainland-funded enterprises to promote business ethics. They were encouraged to formulate a code of conduct for their own companies and 70% of them had done so. The ICAC would follow-up by providing training programmes. So far, Mainland-funded enterprises showed great support to these activities. The ICAC also maintained close liaison with the Hong Kong Chinese Enterprises Association.

Civil servants' avoidance of ICAC's queries

21.The Chairman said she had learnt that some civil servants were very cautious in the provision of service to the public so as to avoid any possible queries from the ICAC. They were therefore hesitant in taking a proactive approach in discharging their duties. This inevitably affected the standard of service they provided. Mr KAN Fook-yee shared her concern. As far as he knew, some civil servants who had discretionary power to institute legal proceedings would prefer to play on the safe side and put the case to the court so that it would be up to the person concerned to prove his innocence. Such discretionary power, if not properly exercised, would affect the effectiveness of the performance of the civil service and result in the waste of resources.

22.Commissioner, ICAC stated that civil servants were required to make decisions in an accountable and fair manner, having regard to the circumstances of each case. As long as they could justify their decisions, there was no need for them to be afraid of ICAC's queries. Nevertheless, she noted the concern and agreed to reflect it to civil service management as appropriate.ICAC

Building management corruption cases

23.Mr CHAN Choi-hi was concerned about the upward trend in corruption complaints against owners' corporations and asked whether the ICAC had any plans to tackle the problem. Director of Community Relations, ICAC advised that in 1995, the ICAC had approached all owners' corporations in Hong Kong, offering them corruption prevention education. However, there were certain difficulties in the promotion work involved because members of the owners' corporations were only working on a voluntary basis and were subject to re-election every year. Nevertheless, the ICAC would continue to organize talks at the district level, with particular attention to those owners' corporations which were required to carry out major maintenance works in the buildings in question.

III.Close of meeting

24.The meeting ended at 4:05 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
6 November 1997