LC Paper No. CB(2)425/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/CA
Panel on Constitutional Affairs
Minutes of meetingMembers Present :
held on Saturday, 26 September 1998 at 2:00 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG SumMembers Absent :
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon SZETO Wah
Members Attending :
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Public Officers Attending :
Clerk in Attendance :
- Mrs Maureen CHAN
- Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (3)
- Mr John LEUNG
- Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (6)
- Dr Gloria TAM
- Assistant Director of Health (Hygiene)
Staff in Attendance :
- Mrs Percy MA
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3
- Ms Mariana LEUNG
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7
I. Review of district organisations
(LC Paper Nos. CB(2)285/98-99(03), 290/98-99(01), 314/98-99(01)&(02) and 343/98-99(01))
The Chairman said that as agreed by members at the last meeting, he had written to the Chief Executive (CE) whose Private Secretary had replied on his behalf saying that all the views expressed by LegCo Members on the subject would be given due consideration. Copies of his letter to the CE and the reply were tabled at the meeting and subsequently issued to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)356/98-99.
2. To facilitate the efficient conduct of the meeting, the Chairman suggested that apart from continuing discussion with the Administration on the assessment of views gathered during the consultation period, members might wish to focus on more practical issues such as defining the problems arising from the existing structure of district organisations and exchanging views with the Administration on possible options to resolve these problems. Members raised no objection to the Chairman's suggestion.
3. Dr YEUNG Sum said that he would like to ascertain from the Administration on whether public views expressed during the consultation exercise supported the dissolution of the Municipal Councils (MCs) or otherwise. With the results of the two opinion surveys conducted by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CU) now available to members, he hoped to have a definite response from the Administration at today's meeting. The information would also be useful in Members' consideration of any related legislative proposals in future. Some members concurred with Dr YEUNG's view.
4. Mr Fred LI Wah-ming said that the he would like the Administration to explain the rationale for its proposal that the Government should take over food safety and environmental hygiene services which represented over 50% of the functions currently undertaken by the MCs, and why management of these two category of services could not be placed under separate authorities.
5. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum said that public views on the review were divided and did not support the Administration's stance. As far as the structure of district organisations was concerned, a motion urging the Government to consider the proposal of "One Municipal Council, One Municipal Services Department" was passed by the LegCo on 29 July 1998. It was for the Administration to explain to members the new organisational structure proposed for delivering the services currently undertaken by the MCs and the reasons for its proposal.
Meeting with the Administration
6. Dr YEUNG Sum said that the result of the opinion surveys conducted by the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies of the CU and the Social Sciences Research Centre of the HKU contradicted with the Government's claim that a majority of the respondents supported the dissolution of the MCs. According to the HKU's survey, 60.7% of those responded supported the amalgamation of the MCs, while only 16.2% were in favour of their dissolution. The CU's survey revealed that 9.5% supported dissolving the MCs, 32.5% supported merging of the MCs, 12% supported merging of the MCs and all District Boards to form a small number of regional bodies, and 24% supported maintaining the status quo. Dr YEUNG emphasised that these were independent surveys conducted by the two Universities using the random sampling method. He therefore considered that the Government's claim that public views supported the dissolution of the MCs was unsubstantiated.
7. In response, Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (6) (PAS for CA(6)) said that he also noted that there were more respondents in favour of the amalgamation of the two MCs than each of the other options in the surveys conducted by CU and HKU. He stressed that the Administration had never made any statement indicating that there was majority public support for the dissolution of the MCs. However, it was quite clear that public views, except those collected by the Democratic Party, indicated preference for the Government to be directly responsible for the management of food safety and environmental hygiene functions. Since these two areas of work constituted the major functions of the MCs, the question remained to be answered was whether the remaining municipal functions such as provision of arts, cultural, sports and recreational services would justify the retention of the two MCs or a merged council. PAS for CA(6) pointed out that the surveys of the HKU and CU did not reflect clearly the public opinion in this respect.
8. Dr YEUNG Sum said that he was pleased with the Administration's clarification that it had never made any statement about majority public support for the dissolution of the MCs. He reiterated that public views were divided on the issue.
9. Mr TSANG Yok-shing said that the HKU's survey report had concluded that the respondents were generally not familiar with the operation, functions and structure of the district organisations and the proposals and impact of the review. This resulted in some inconsistencies in their response. Hence, it was not the appropriate time for public consultation to be conducted on the subject. He invited the Administration to comment. Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (3) ( DS for CA(3)) said that in view of the provisional status of the MCs and the fact that the terms of office of the incumbent members would expire at the end of 1999, any delay in conducting the review was considered undesirable.
Delivery of municipal services
10. Dr YEUNG Sum said that while he was aware that public views were in support of the proposal for the Government to manage centrally the food safety and environmental hygiene functions currently undertaken by the MCs, he expressed concern as to whether the general public had a thorough understanding of the existing division of responsibilities in these areas among the MCs and the government departments/bureaux.
11. Mr Fred LI Wah-ming queried the manner in which the Administration had conducted the public consultation. He said that the Administration had proposed in the Consultation Document that the food safety and environment hygiene functions should be taken over by the Government and, based on the premise that this proposal would be adopted, put forward four options to restructure the district organisations to discharge the remaining municipal functions. However, if the responsibility for providing services relating to food safety and environmental hygiene was transferred to the Government as proposed, there appeared to be little justification for the retention of the MCs. He pointed out that the Department of Health, a Government department funded by the MCs, was in fact already responsible for the bulk of work in the area of food safety.
12. In response, DS for CA(3) said that the Government had no pre-conceived position on the review. Unlike consultation exercises in the past, the Consultation Document on Review of District Organisations set out the main areas of concern identified by the public relating to the current system of district organisations, and proposed four broad options for change for public consultation. However, these options were by no means exhaustive. Since the majority of the respondents supported the proposal for the Government to assume direct responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, it was necessary to review the structure of the district organisations and the organisational structure within the Government for delivery of these services. A Consultant had been commissioned to undertake a Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services. Members would be advised of the outcome of the study in due course.
13. Both Mr LI and Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum queried why the food safety and environmental hygiene functions could not be put under two different authorities. DS for CA(3) said that the Consultant had examined this proposal and consulted relevant parties. The view gathered was that food safety control and management of environmental hygiene services were inter-related and separation of the management of the two functions would compromise efficiency and undermine effective co-ordination.
14. Dr YEUNG Sum and Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum emphasized that the transfer of functions relating to food safety and environmental hygiene to the Government did not necessarily result in the dissolution of the MCs. Dr YEUNG said that according to some press reports, a new bureau would be set up to assume responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, and the functions relating to arts and culture as well as sports and recreation were proposed to be handed over to statutory bodies, namely the Arts Development Council and the Sports Development Board respectively. He pointed out that centralisation of power by the Government and the replacement of the MCs by statutory bodies implied a retrogression in democracy. Mr Fred LI Wah-ming criticised the proposal to dissolve the MCs and redistribute their functions as dismantling a well-established channel for public participation in community affairs.
15. Ms Emily LAU cautioned that because of resource implications, any proposal to create a new bureau should be considered carefully, and that the departments/bureaux affected should be properly consulted on any changes affecting their structure and functions.
16. DS for CA(3) assured members that the reform to the existing structure of district organisations would bring about improved services to the community. On strengthening public participation in community affairs, the Administration was considering proposals to enhance the role and functions of the District Boards, and studying overseas' practices in relation to delivery of arts, cultural, sports and recreational services. The Administration would discuss with the Panel after finalising the details of these proposals.
17. In response to members, DS for CA(3) said that the Compendium of Public Views published in September included all views received during the consultation period and the relevant minutes of meetings of the various representative institutions. The Consultation Report, to be issued in October, would provide an analysis of the public response and also explain in detail the Administration's major findings and proposals on the review. The Compendium was released ahead of the Consultation Report to allow the public to have a full picture of the public views at an early stage. The recommendations to be made in the Consultation Report would have regard to the public views collected in the public consultation exercise. The Consultation Report would be available for discussion by the next Panel meeting to be held on 19 October 1998. In this connection, the Chairman advised that the policy briefing by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, originally scheduled to be held at the regular meeting on 19 October 1998, had been advanced to 9 October 1998.
18. On whether the public would be consulted again on the proposals contained in the Consultation Report, DS for CA(3) said that the Administration had already completed the consultation and the Report would explain the rationale for the Government's conclusions on the way forward. Any views from the public would also be welcomed.
19. DS for CA(3) said that the Administration's findings and recommendations of the consultation exercise had been submitted to the Chief Executive for consideration. She was not in a position to advise what the Chief Executive intended to announce on the subject in the Policy Address. However, the Administration would continue to discuss with the Panel on the implementational aspects of the review.
20. Some Members questioned the selection criteria and the neutrality of the Consultant appointed to undertake the Study on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Services. DS for CA(3) said that the Consultant appointed was Mr LAM Chi-chiu, a retired civil servant who had previously held the posts of Director of Urban Services Department and Regional Secretary of the Home Affairs Department. As the Consultancy Study focused mainly on the organisational structure within the Government, Mr LAM had the relevant experience and working knowledge. In response to Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum on whether the selection process was open and fair, DS for CA(3) said that the appointment of Mr LAM followed established Government procedures and regulations, and agreed to provide the relevant information for members' reference.
|21. In response to Ms Emily LAU on the amount of the consultation fee involved, DS for CA(3) said that this was a matter between the two parties. DS for CA(3) said that this was a matter between the two parties. As public money was involved, the Administration was requested to consider providing the information at a later stage, e.g. upon completion of the Study. Dr YEUNG Sum suggested and members agreed that the Consultant should be invited to attend future meetings of the Panel when the subject was discussed.
22. Ms Emily LAU said that if a proposal was made to dissolve the two MCs which were political institutions with a long history of directly elected representatives, the matter should be decided by a referendum. DS for CA(3) said that the issue was too complicated for a decision to be made via a referendum. PAS for CA(6) said that a simple "yes" or "no" vote on the proposal without giving due consideration to the consequential structural and functional changes would not be meaningful. Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, the problems relating to the existing system would remain unresolved and need to be tackled.
23. The Chairman pointed out that there were different ways for conducting a referendum. One option was to set out the proposals and other related arrangements in the form of a bill which could be put to vote by the public in a referendum after it was passed by the LegCo. Implementation of the proposals would be subject to the outcome of the referendum. PAS for CA(6) said that referendum had not been done in Hong Kong in the past and was not provided in the Basic Law, hence had no binding effect.
Implementation of proposed changes
24. In response to Mr Martin LEE, DS for CA(3) said that the establishment of the MCs was prescribed by law. Any proposals to transfer the functions and duties of the MCs would involve introduction of legislation which required the approval of LegCo. The Administration was aware of Members' differing views on the matter, as reflected in the motion debate held by LegCo on 29 July 1998. It was hoped that before the end of 1999, the Administration could convince Members and the public, through various channels, that the arrangements proposed were in the best interests of the community. PAS for CA(6) supplemented that the appointment of the incumbent members was for a term not exceeding 31 December 1999 under the Provisional Urban Council Ordinance and the Provincial Regional Council Ordinance. However, there was no end date for the two Ordinances.
25. Mr Martin LEE requested the Administration to give an undertaking to the effect that if a proposal was made to dissolve the MCs, it would be subject to the approval of the LegCo. DS for CA(3) said that the Secretary for Constitutional Affair, in his response to the motion debate held by the LegCo on 29 July 1998, had referred to some members' concern about the Government's threat of inflicting a "natural death" upon the two MCs by way of refusing to introduce a new bill on the elections of MCs, and had stated that the Government, as a responsible one, would not make use of any "grey area" in legislation and would not bypass LegCo to dissolve the MCs.
26. The Chairman said that apart from amending the Provisional Urban Council Ordinance, Provisional Regional Council Ordinance and Provisional District Boards Ordinance, new legislation to provide for elections to the District Boards should also be enacted early for the benefit of the incumbent members and prospective candidates. He pointed out that the electoral legislation currently in force was the Legislative Council Ordinance which only provided for the election of LegCo Members. DS for CA(3) said that the Administration was aware of the lead time required for making arrangements for the District Boards election and would introduce the necessary legislation into the LegCo as soon as possible.
27. A few members expressed concern about the manner in which the public consultation exercise was conducted and the methodology adopted to release and analyse the views collected during the consultation period. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum said that he remained unconvinced that food safety and environmental hygiene services could not be separated and should be centrally managed by the Government. Mr Martin LEE said that members of the public should be consulted on the whole package of proposals on the review of district organisations and asked the Administration to consider shelving the review pro tem. The Chairman pointed out that as public views were divided on the future of the MCs, it might not be desirable to take the matter further at this stage.
28. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 3:50 pm.
Legislative Council Secretariat
16 October 1998