LC Paper No. CB(2)885/98-99

Ref : CB2/PL/CA

Legislative Council
Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Minutes of special meeting
held on Monday, 9 November 1998 at 2:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum

Members Absent :

Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Members Attending :

Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Dr the Hon TANG Siu-tong

Public Officers Attending :

Acting Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Ms Alison CHAN
Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs
Attendance By Invitation :

Dr CHAN Man-hung
Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu
Social Sciences Research Centre
The University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong Baptist University

Dr LI Pang-kong
Lingnan College

Dr LO Shiu-hing
The University of Hong Kong
Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Percy MA
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3
Staff in Attendance :

Ms Mariana LEUNG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7
I. Meeting with academics

The Chairman said that Dr CHAN Man-hung, Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu, Dr Michael DEGOLYER, Dr LI Pang-kong and Dr LO Shiu-hing would present their views on reform of district organisations at the meeting. Dr CHEUNG Bing-leung and Professor LEE Ming-kwan had submitted their written views on the subject (LC Paper Nos. CB(2)570/98-99(03) and 595/98-99(01)). Representatives from the Administration had been invited to attend the meeting but they would not participate in the discussion. The Administration had already made responses to some of the academics' written submissions (LC Paper Nos. CB(2)594/98-99 (01), (02) and (03)). The Chairman suggested and members agreed that the academics be invited to give their views first, to be followed by members' questions seeking clarifications on individual presentations. General discussion on the subject could follow if there were still time available.

2. The Chairman welcomed the academics to the meeting and invited them to give their oral presentations.

Dr CHAN Man-hung
(LC Paper No. CB(2)611/98-99(01))

3. Dr CHAN Man-hung presented his views as contained in his written submission (tabled at the meeting). In gist, he supported the Government's decision to abolish the Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs) and to create a new bureau and department for management of food safety and environmental hygiene.

4. In answer to members' questions, Dr CHAN made the following responses -

  1. He had not done any in-depth study on the "bird flu" incident which was merely quoted as an example to highlight the inadequacies of the existing structure to respond to crises involving food safety and environmental hygiene. However, in saying so, he had not passed any judgement on the performance of the Government, nor had he related the incident as a cause for the abolition of the Municipal Councils (MCs);

  2. Having regard to the advance technological development in and importance of food safety control and environmental hygiene services, the existing organisational structure for delivery of these services would need to be reviewed and overhauled. Moreover, as food safety and environmental hygiene were multi-faceted and highly professionalised services, professionals and experts should be involved in the formulation and implementation of policies in these areas. He therefore supported the setting up of a new bureau and department and the establishment of an advisory committee for food safety and environmental hygiene services, as proposed by the Government. It was his view that the high standard and wide spectrum of professional input required in these areas could not be obtained through elected representatives of the MCs; and

  3. He clarified that his comment that the existence of the MCs, one of the products of the colonial era, should be reviewed from the perspective of both political and social developments was only made in relation to the management of food safety and environmental hygiene services.
Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 579/98-99(01))

5. In his capacity as Head of the Public Opinion Programme (POP) in the Social Sciences Research Centre of The University of Hong Kong, Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu explained to members the results of the opinion surveys conducted on the subject. The survey conducted between 27-29 July 1998 (instead of "27-28 July 1998" referred to in line 1, paragraph 2 of the submission), near the end of the consultation period, showed that majority of the public were basically unfamiliar with the existing structure of district organisations and the consultative document. On the instant poll conducted on 7 October 1998, immediately after the Chief Executive(CE)'s policy address had been delivered, the results showed that 54% supported the CE's proposal to abolish the MCs, while only 24% disagreed. Another follow-up survey conducted on 20 October 1998 did not depict any significant change in opinion. He concluded that public opinion began to settle in favour of the Government's proposal after the policy address.

6. As for his personal views, Mr CHUNG said that he would support the abolition of the MCs in the interim, provided that the District Boards (DBs)(to be renamed as District Councils (DCs)) would be vested with responsibilities and power, similar to those of the MCs. As the Government had yet to disclose details of the newly proposed structure, he could not say at this stage whether he supported the Government's proposal. He did not felt that he could support other options such as the "one municipal council and one municipal services department" proposal, or the proposal to maintain the status quo, as the question of democratic development or public participation had not been accorded due priority in these proposals. On the reform of district organisations as a long term development, Mr CHUNG suggested that the entire system of representative government be constructed from community building blocks called "community development units" (CDU). Each CDU could be a single or a group of housing estates, a conglomerate of villages, or demarcations resulting from urban redevelopment; and depending on the size of their population, should return a fixed number of district councillors using the "multiple seats, multiple votes" system. This would enhance the representativeness of all elected councillors, and promote their identification with the community they represented.

7. In conclusion, Mr CHUNG said that he would express regret about the proposed new structure for delivery of municipal services if it would result in centralisation of power by the Government and reduction of public accountability, which implied retrogression in democracy. In the interest of long term democratic development, he suggested that the appointed and ex-officio seats in the new DCs should be abolished. On the concern as to whether the interest of certain sectors of the community would be adequately represented if these seats were not retained, he said that his concept of representative government would help address this inbalance.

8. While Mr Martin LEE indicated his support to Mr CHUNG's proposal on CDU development in the long run, he pointed out that there was at present no clear direction from the Government on democratic development of district organisations. The Government's proposal to abolish the MCs without delegating executive powers to and strengthening direct representation of the DCs was contrary to Mr CHUNG's CDU concept of representative government. Hence, some LegCo Members preferred the adoption of the "one municipal council and one municipal services department" proposal as an interim measure. In response to Mr Martin LEE, Mr CHUNG confirmed that he supported the Government's proposal to abolish the MCs provided that the conditions set out in paragraph 7 of his submission were met. If the composition and functions of the DCs to be formed would remain unchanged, the situation was far from ideal.

9. Mr CHUNG agreed with Mr LEE that the LegCo was faced with a dilemma of whether or not to support the Administration's proposals on reform of district organisations, in the absence of details of the new structure. Unlike public views which were more concerned about "streamlining the organisational structure" and "administrative efficiency", Mr CHUNG was of the view that emphasis should not be focused too much on the existence or otherwise of the MCs, but rather on the direction for the reform of district organisations. Development of democracy at the grassroots level could be achieved through the re-structuring of the DCs. He hoped that the DCs would be provided with additional funding and executive functions. He also opined that it was opportune to review the structure of district organisations prior to expiry of the term of office of their members at the end of 1999.

10. Mr CHUNG agreed with Miss Christine LOH's comment that irrespective of the composition and functions of the DCs, those who would be elected to the DCs could contribute towards promoting democratic development in Hong Kong.

11. Mr CHUNG also considered that the "single seat, single vote" system adopted for DB election not conducive to community development. In response to the Chairman on demarcation of boundaries, he said that while the average geographical constituency size of the DCs was to be maintained at 17,000, consideration could be given to widen the population deviation of 15%.

12. In response to Dr YEUNG Sum, Mr CHUNG said that the current political environment might not be ready for the kind of comprehensive reform that he and some Members had envisaged. However, given the current review of district organisations, there was scope in the District Councils Bill for some changes to be introduced in terms of democratic development at the grassroots level. Mr CHUNG added that in view of the constraints of the Basic Law (BL), it was not necessary for direct elections of the LegCo and the Chief Executive to be implemented ahead of direct elections of district organisations.

(LC Paper Nos. CB(2)570/98-99(01), CB(2)594/98-99(01), CB(2)611/98-99(03) and CB(2)611/98-99(04))

13. Dr Michael DEGOLYER referred members to his submission (LC Paper No. CB(2)570/98-99(01)), the Administration's response to his submission (LC Paper No. CB(2)594/98-99(01)) and his reply to the Administration's response (tabled at the meeting and subsequently issued vide LC Paper No. CB(2)611/98-99(03)). He also referred members to the results of the three Municipal Council related surveys conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project (HKTP) in January, July and October 1998 (tabled at the meeting and subsequently issued vide LC Paper No. CB(2)611/98-99(04)).

14. Dr DEGOLYER said that all governments should be close to the people and should listen carefully to the people. However, in reviewing the district organisations and consulting the public on the review, the Government had failed to show that it was close to the people and would listen to the people. While he concurred with Mr CHUNG that an ideal district reform should go right down to the village level, he too did not perceive that the Government was willing to do so.

15. Regarding public opinion, Dr DEGOLYER said that as could be seen from the results of the surveys, the number of respondents who had heard of the proposal to merge or abolish the MCs had substantially increased from January to October this year. The number of respondents who preferred merging the MCs or maintaining the status quo had also increased. The reason being that people were concerned about losing the possibility of being able to persuade the Government on matters at a district level. He also pointed out that in the survey conducted in October 1998, the respondents were specifically asked to respond to a question of "How do you want your LegCo representative to vote on Tung Chee-hwa's proposal to abolish the Urban and Regional Councils", and 60% of those responded preferred the option of merging or retaining the MCs.

Dr LI Pang -kong
(LC Paper No. CB(2)611/98-99(02))

16. Dr LI Pang-kong said that he was giving his views from the viewpoint of political structure, not management of municipal services. He commented that the Government had been "hasty" in reviewing the district organisations, similar to other constitutional reviews conducted in the past. He opined that any constitutional reform involving re-distribution of political power should be given ample time for public consultation and full deliberation among interested parties or individuals before arriving at a final decision. Dr LI pointed out that the most ideal way was for the review of district organisations to be incorporated as part of the review of political development of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

17. Commenting from the aspects of distribution of political power and community development, Dr LI said that there was a need for district organisations to continue to exist. As the LegCo was only concerned with territory-wide issues, it was necessary for district organisations to handle district-related issues. In addition, district organisations vested with power to allocate resources could, through community participation, be responsible for development of their respective districts.

18. On the review of district organisations, Dr LI supported the merger of all DBs and the MCs to form five district councils. He said that while the current financial arrangements should be maintained, the district councils should be vested with executive powers and given additional resources.

Dr LO Shiu-hing
(LC Paper Nos. CB(2)570/98-99(02) and CB(2)594/98-99(03))

19. Dr LO Shiu-hing referred members to his submission and the Government's response to his submission (LC Paper No. CB(2)594/98-99(03)). He said that he had serious reservation about the Government's proposal to abolish the MCs. He made the following additional comments -

  1. Although the Government did not admit that it had used the "bird flu" incident as a cause to abolish the MCs, he had noted that Government officials had on many occasions implied that that was the case. Paragraph 5.5 of the Consultation Document was a very good demonstration of such implication;

  2. In its reply, the Government did not say how coordination among government departments would be improved with implementation of its proposal. In his view, coordination problems alone did not justify the immediate abolition of the MCs. Instead, he proposed that for food safety and environmental hygiene services, a new bureau comprising DB members should be set up as a coordinator among the MCs and relevant government departments;

  3. He questioned the Administration's claim that abolishing one tier of the representative government would not affect the development of democracy. In his view, the process of democratisation should be supplemented by decentralisation of Government's responsibilities. In this connection, he pointed out that the Government had yet to confirm the composition of the advisory committee to be formed to give advice and to monitor work in food safety and environmental hygiene services;

  4. He could not agree with the Administration's comment that to substantially enhance the power and functions of the DBs would contravene Article 97 of the BL. In his view, the Government's proposal to abolish the MCs might also contravene the spirit of the BL, the interpretation of which should best be clarified with the BL drafters;

  5. The proposal to abolish the MCs without increasing or maintaining the number of directly elected seats in DBs would not only reduce the channels of elite participation, but also destabilise the political system of the HKSAR; and

  6. He did not agree with the Administration's comment that any referendum to be conducted in Hong Kong had no constitutional force under the BL. Quoting the dispute between the Provincial Government of Quebec and the Federal Government of Canada on a similar issue which was eventually settled in court, he said that it was a matter for the court to decide.
General discussion

20. Ms Cyd HO Sau-lan asked Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu whether those who were in support of the option to abolish the MCs in the public opinion surveys were simply exercising their rights as a citizen to participate in the decision process, or were aware of the fact they were in fact giving away their rights to participate in municipal affairs. Mr CHUNG responded that there were no data collected in relation to the state of mind of the respondents. In his opinion, the current political structure of Hong Kong did not allow a referendum to be conducted on a certain issue, and that was why public opinion surveys had been accorded so much weight in reviewing issues concerning the community as a whole. Results of public opinion surveys were important in a sense that they also represented the views of the silent majority who might not be willing to cast their vote even if they had a chance to do so. However, in a complex issue such as the review of the district organisations, Mr CHUNG said that different questions asked in a survey could lead to different results. That also accounted for why public opinion was rather confused during the consultation period when different options for reform were presented for public consultation. When the public was asked a simple "yes" or "no" question after the policy address, there was clear indication that the public was in favour of the Government's proposal.

21. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum invited the academics' views on how the review of district organisations should have been conducted and the way forward given the present developments. Dr CHAN Man-hung said that from the point of view of an academic, there was no absolute method of conducting a review. An important consideration was whether the methodology of conducting the review was acceptable to the community and the Legislative Council. Dr Michael DEGOLYER said that it was for the public to consider whether it was acceptable that changes proposed to reform the district organisations were made on the ground of improving administrative efficiency. He considered that it was ultimately a matter of empowering and creating a sense of responsibility in the public to participate in community affairs. The thinking that the powerless class was waiting for the powerful class to introduce changes was a sign of colonial mentality. He said that a change in the public's mentality was necessary before any reform was contemplated. Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu opined that in the event that the MCs were abolished, there was still scope for changes to be introduced in the functions and composition of the future DCs. Notwithstanding the Government's proposal to abolish the MCs, he was prepared to consider counter-proposals which could address his concern about democratic development. Dr LI Pang-kong was of the view that the Government was firm in its stance on the future of the MCs. It would be for the LegCo to decide whether to support the Government's proposal. Dr LO Shiu-hing suggested that the LegCo should clarify whether the abolition of the MCs was consistent with Article 97 of the BL. In addition, the LegCo should ascertain from the Government the composition of the advisory committee proposed under the new framework for management of food safety and environmental hygiene services, and details of the composition and functions of the future DCs.

22. Mr Martin LEE asked whether the academics agreed to the Administration's conclusion that more than 70% of the 1,660 completed questionnaires were in support of the abolition of the MCs. Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-Yiu said that as the 1,660 questionnaires were distributed and collected during public forums organised by the Home Affairs Department, the survey result could not be considered to be representative of the public, but only of those attending the forums.

23. Dr YEUNG Sum enquired about the discrepancy between the results obtained from the public opinion polls conducted by Mr Robert CHUNG Ting-yiu and Dr Michael DEGOLYER respectively in October this year. The former indicated that there was a majority support for the Government's proposal to abolish the MCs, whereas the latter indicated that majority of the respondents were in support of merging or retaining the MCs. Dr Michael DEGOLYER said that the result of a poll would depend on the time and method of conducting the poll, and the types of questions asked in the poll. Regarding the survey conducted by the HKTP, a representative sample had been obtained as polling was conducted during daytime and evening, and on weekdays as well as weekends. In addition, questions had been phrased in specific terms, instead of asking for a personal preference of a proposal. The HKTP survey was considered to be a reliable indicator of public opinion.

24. In response to Mr LEE Wing-tat's question concerning their views about the retention of the three-tier representative institutions, Dr Michael DEGOLYER explained that "efficiency" implied that problems should be resolved at the lowest level possible, so that localised problems such as pipe leakage and garbage dump could be resolved at the district level if the political structure were so designed. Dr LO Shiu-hing said that according to his understanding of the work of the DBs, he was aware of local problems which could not be resolved even at the district level. Maintaining a three-tier representative government for a population of more than 6 million was not considered to be excessive.


25. The Chairman thanked the academics for attending the meeting and for sharing their views with members.

II. Any other business

26. In response to the Chairman on the progress of the Consultancy Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services, the Acting Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs said that the Consultancy Report was being finalised. After the Administration had studied the recommendations of the Report, the Report together with the Administration's responses would be submitted to members for consideration.

27. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 4:35 p.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat
18 December 1998