Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2)1487
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/CA&PS

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Constitutional Affairs
and Panel on Public Service

Joint meeting on Wednesday, 25 March 1998 at 8:30 am in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Panel on Constitutional Affairs
* Hon Andrew WONG, JP (Chairman of meeting/Panel Chairman)
* Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Kennedy WONG Ying-ho
Hon KAN Fook-yee

Panel on Public Service
Hon IP Kwok-him (Panel Chairman)
Hon LEE Kai-ming (Deputy Panel Chairman)
Hon CHAN Wing-chan
Hon CHENG Yiu-tong

Members Absent :

Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Hon TSANG Yok-sing (Deputy Panel Chairman)
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
* Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon CHENG Kai-nam
Hon CHIM Pui-chung
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee
* Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Panel on Public Service

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Dr Hon Philip WONG Yu-hong

* member of Panel on Public Service

Public Officers Attending :

Constitutional Affairs Bureau

Mr Michael M Y SUEN
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mr Clement MAK
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs(1)

Ms Rosanna LAW
Principal Assistant Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (2)

Chief Executive Officer (Special Duties)

Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service (2)

Mrs Philomena LEUNG
Principal Assistant Secretary for the Civil Service (3)

Trade and Industry Bureau

Mr TAM Wing-pong, JP
Deputy Secretary for Trade & Industry (1)

Immigration Department

Assistant Director of Immigration (Special Duties)

Cleck in Attendance :

Mrs Percy MA
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)3

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

Miss Flora TAI
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)3

I.Election of Chairman

Mr Andrew WONG was nominated and seconded by Mr LEE Kai-ming and Mrs Elsie TU respectively as Convenor/Chairman of the meeting. Mr Andrew WONG accepted the nomination. There being no other nomination, Mr WONG took over the chair.

2. In the absence of a quorum for a joint meeting, members agreed that the meeting would be conducted in the form of an informal briefing. In this regard, the Convenor advised that members would not be covered by the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance.

II. Purpose of the Meeting

3. The Convenor said that the purpose of the meeting was for the Administration to brief members on its plan to set up an office of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) in Beijing, the funding proposal of which would be considered by the Finance Committee on 27 March 1998.

(As a quorum was present at this juncture, the Convenor declared that the meeting would be held as a joint panel meeting.)

III. Meeting with the Administration
(PLC Paper No. CB(2)1301)

4. At the invitation of the Chairman, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (SCA) briefed members on the Administration's proposal to establish an office in Beijing towards the end of 1998 or in the first quarter of 1999, which was set out in the Administration's paper on "Establishment of an Office in Beijing" issued vide PLC Paper No. CB(2)1301. The Chairman then invited questions from members on the proposal and asked the Administration to respond accordingly. The gist of the ensuing discussion is summarized in the following paragraphs.

Role and functions of the Beijing Office

5. Members noted that the functions to be undertaken by the Beijing Office included the following -

  1. provide information about the HKSAR to the Central People's Government (CPG), provincial/municipal authorities and Mainland non-governmental bodies to enable them to have a better understanding of developments in HKSAR and, in particular, how "one country, two systems" and "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong" with "a high degree of autonomy" were being put into practice;

  2. keep the relevant bureaux and departments of the HKSARG informed about the latest development in the Mainland e.g. changes in policy, new legislation and other developments. This would ensure that the HKSARG was apprised of such developments and in a position to evaluate the impact on the HKSAR, if any, in a timely manner;

  3. in consultation with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council (HKMAO), take the necessary action with the Mainland authorities on specific issues on the basis of the instructions of the relevant HKSARG bureaux and departments;

  4. liaise with various CPG authorities and municipal/provincial representative offices in Beijing;

  5. provide logistical support to visiting HKSARG delegations;

  6. handle HKSAR immigration-related matters;

  7. liaise with HKSAR non-governmental bodies in the Mainland; and

  8. provide practical assistance to Hong Kong residents in the Mainland such as providing them with information on the assistance available if they had lost their belongings including travel documents in Beijing or if they had been taken seriously ill.

6. Referring to the function listed in paragraph 5(c) above, Mr LEE Kai-ming sought clarification about the relationship between the HKMAO and the Beijing Office. SCA explained that the HKMAO had acted and would continue to act as a gatekeeper to screen and approve various requests put forward by Mainland municipal/ provincial offices to the HKSARG. In this respect, the HKMAO could as appropriate liaise with the HKSARG through the Beijing Office in future. Pointing out that the Beijing Office was to represent the HKSAR's interests, SCA stressed that it would not be subordinate to the HKMAO or any Mainland authorities.

7. In response to members, SCA said that the Constitutional Affairs Bureau (CAB) had served as the HKSARG's point of contact with the CPG. CAB would not screen requests put forward by HKSARG's bureaux and departments but had assumed a liaison and coordination role. The CAB had also been involved, together with the Information Services Department, in providing information about the HKSAR to the CPG, provincial/municipal authorities and Mainland non-governmental bodies. With the establishment of the Beijing Office, it was anticipated that these functions would be discharged more effectively.

8. Despite the Administration's explanation, members remained concerned that the phrase "in consultation with the HKMAO" in paragraph 5(c) would lead to misunderstanding and confusion about the relationship between the Beijing Office and the HKMAO. To address members' concern, SCA agreed that the Administration would consider revising the relevant wording with a view to reflecting more clearly the relationship between the two. Adm

9. Referring to paragraph 5(h) above, Mr CHENG Yiu-tong asked whether the Beijing Office would provide assistance to aggrieved HKSAR businessmen involving in commercial disputes in the Mainland. SCA responded that commercial disputes were normally very complicated which should be resolved by legal means. The Beijing Office would offer support services to the aggrieved persons, such as providing information on channels for seeking redress in the Mainland and other case-neutral information which would facilitate their follow up action with Mainland authorities.

Organization and staffing of the Beijing Office

10. Mr IP Kwok-him asked for a comparison of the responsibilities and establishment between the former London Office and the proposed Beijing Office. Deputy Secretary for Trade & Industry (DS(TI)) said that the former London Office had gradually changed to a trade and economic office since early 1990. Prior to 1990, apart from trade and economic matters, the Office also performed other functions, such as to liaise with Hong Kong citizens living and studying in UK; to liaise with the UK Government and parliamentarians; to handle overseas recruitment matters for Hong Kong Government and to provide information about Hong Kong. The number of staff working at the Office was once over 50. He stressed that the London Office, unlike the Beijing Office, was not required to handle immigration-related matters. In further response to members, he supplemented that the ranking of the head of the former London Office had changed several times, and at one time was ranked at policy secretary (D8) level. The ranking of the head of the London Economic and Trade Office was currently pitched at Administrative Officer Staff Grade A (D6) level.

11. At Mr IP's request, DS(TI) undertook to provide information on the establishment of the former London Office for members' reference before the Finance Committee meeting scheduled for 27 March 1998. Adm

(Post-meeting note : The English and Chinese versions of the approved establishments and organization charts for the London Office as at 1 October 1996 and the London Economic and Trade Office as at 31 March 1998 were issued to members vide PLC Paper Nos. CB(2)1336 and 1345 on 26 and 27 March 1998 respectively.)

Creation of a Director of Bureau (D8) post

12. Referring to the role of the Director of the Beijing Office as the HKSARG's principal representative in the Mainland and the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs as the HKSARG's co-ordinator in dealing with matters relating to the CPG, Mr IP Kwok-him expressed concern about the delineation of authority and responsibility of the two posts which were both ranked at D8 level. The Chairman had similar concern.

13. In response, SCA said that the Administration's proposal to pitch the post of the Director of the Beijing Office at Director of Bureau (D8) level was made in recognition of the fact that the post would need to establish working relations between the CPG and HKSARG authorities at a high level from the outset. Given this important task, the Beijing Office would need to be headed by an officer at a sufficiently senior rank. According to the understanding of the Administration, heads of the provincial/municipal representative offices in Beijing were also pitched at comparable level. Moreover, as compared with the ranking of the Heads of the HKETOs reporting to the Secretary for the Trade and Industry, the proposed ranking of the Director of the Beijing Office was considered appropriate as the scope of the responsibilities of the Beijing Office went much beyond those of any HKETO which were focused on economic and trade matters.

14. Mr Kennedy WONG pointed out that heads of some provincial/municipal representative offices in Beijing were officials at deputy director level only. SCA responded that the major consideration was whether the rank of the Director of the Beijing Office was at a sufficiently high level for him/her to effectively discharge the responsibilities of the post. Mr WONG opined that the Administration, in proposing the ranking of the post, should make reference to the ranking of the Director's counterparts in Beijing. In this regard, Mr KAN Fook-yee advised that even though the posts of heads of the representative offices were pitched at director level, the provinces and municipalities had the discretion to assign officials at deputy director level to fill the posts, depending on their own need.

15. Mr IP Kwok-him and Mr CHAN Wing-chan were not satisfied with the explanations. They asked the Administration to consider pitching the post of the Director of Beijing Office at D7 level so that he/she would report to the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, thereby achieving a more systematic hierarchy of authority. SCA said that, based on previous experience, the Administration considered D8 an appropriate ranking. In this connection, he pointed out that the HKETOs in Washington and London had previously been headed by officers at D8 level. He assured members that the ranking of the post could be reviewed in future if necessary.

16. In further response to members, SCA reiterated that he was merely playing a coordinating role between CPG and HKSARG bureaux and departments and would not be involved in any of the functions to be undertaken by the Director of the Beijing Office. Referring to the two functions of the Beijing Office as set out in paragraph 5(a) and (b) above, SCA pointed out that the scope of responsibilities of the Beijing Office went beyond that of the CAB. Thus, the question of overlapping of functions and authority between the Beijing Office and the CAB should not arise. In addition, there was no subordinate relationship between the two.

Non-directorate staff

17. SCA said that the Beijing Office would be staffed by 32 non-directorate staff. In addition to the 17 Hong Kong civil servants to be posted to the Office from the HKSARG, the remaining 15 supporting staff would be local personnel, largely providing secretarial, clerical, transport and miscellaneous services. The local personnel were neither Mainland nor Hong Kong civil servants.

18. In response to Mr IP Kwok-him's enquiry, Deputy Secretary for the Civil Service (DS(CS) explained that in line with the arrangements in overseas offices, the local personnel of the Beijing Office were appointed to the posts, but not to the Hong Kong civil service. It was an accounting mechanism to create a special category of holders of public office who were not civil servants but occupied certain posts which were created and paid for by the HKSARG. However, the local personnel would be subject to all the relevant regulations applicable to Hong Kong civil servants such as the Civil Service Regulations through the employment contract.

19. Referring to the proposed organization chart for the Beijing Office, Mr KAN Fook-yee asked for justifications to provide a post of Chief Information Officer in the Beijing Office. SCA explained that Information Officer posts were created for all bureaux and HKETOs and were responsible for handling the media in the day-to-day operation, including holding press conferences and issuing press releases. The establishment of the Information Section of the London Economic and Trade Office was similar to that proposed for the Beijing Office.

20. Mr CHAN Wing-chan expressed reservation about the proposed size of the Beijing Office. In response, SCA said that excluding the Immigration Section, the proposed size of the Beijing Office was comparable to that of the other HKETOs. In view of the various functions to be undertaken by the Beijing Office which was a new set up, the proposed establishment was considered appropriate.

21. On Mr CHAN's comments about the large number of staffing proposals for directorate posts submitted by the Administration in the current session, DS(CS) said that the Administration had taken great care in making any proposals for directorate posts. While it might appear to Members that the Administration had made a large number of submissions on creation of directorate posts to the Provisional Legislative Council for consideration, the reality was that the Administration had to deal with the normal volume of business within a curtailed session of the Council. He informed members that statistics had in fact revealed that the total number of posts created during the current session had not out-numbered the average number of posts created in a normal session. In addition, these proposals were considered by reference to normal job content of equivalent grades and ranks. Mr CHAN urged the Administration to adopt a prudent approach in making any staffing proposals for directorate posts to avoid creating a top-heavy organizational structure.

Financial implications

22. SCA said that the full-year recurrent cost of the Beijing Office would be about $58 million, and assuming that the Office would be set up in late 1998, the recurrent expenditure for 1998-99 would be about $40.5 million. Responding to Mr KAN Fook-yee, SCA explained that the initial one-off setting-up cost would be about $41 million. The Beijing Office would be housed in rented premises in the first instance. The Administration intended in due course to identify a suitable site in Beijing and construct a permanent office building. Funding proposal for setting up a permanent Beijing Office would be submitted separately when ready.

Setting up HKSARG's office in other provinces

23. In response to members, SCA said that Article 22 of the Basic Law (BL 22) had specifically provided that the HKSAR might establish an office in Beijing. The Administration did not have any plan to establish offices in other Mainland provinces. On whether HKSARG had the authority to set up an office in provinces other than Beijing, Mr KAN Fook-yee suggested that the Administration should make reference to BL 20 which stated that the HKSAR might enjoy other powers granted to it by the National People's Congress (NPC), the Standing Committee of the NPC or the CPG.


24. While members in general expressed support to the Administration's proposal to establish the Beijing Office, a few members expressed reservation about the need to pitch the proposed post of the Director of the Beijing Office at the rank of D8.

25. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 10:05 am.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
9 June 1998