LC Paper No. CB(2)574/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/CA

Legislative Council
Panel on Constitutional Affairs

Minutes of meeting
held on Friday, 9 October 1998 at 10:30 am
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP (Chairman)
Hon LEE Wing-tat
Hon Martin LEE Chu-ming, SC, JP
Hon Margaret NG
Hon Ronald ARCULLI, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum, JP
Hon Christine LOH
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Jasper TSANG Yok-sing, JP
Hon Ambrose LAU Hon-chuen, JP

Members Absent :

Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum

Members Attending :

Hon LEE Kai-ming, JP
Hon Fred LI Wah-ming
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHAN Wing-chan

Public Officers Attending :

Mr Michael M Y SUEN, JP
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs

Mr Clement C H MAK
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs(1)

Mr Robin IP
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (2)

Mrs Maureen CHAN
Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (3)
Clerk in Attendance :

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

Mrs Justina LAM
Assistant Secretary General 2

Ms Mariana LEUNG
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)7

I. Briefing by the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs on the Chief Executive's Policy Address 1998


The Chairman referred members to the following documents tabled at the meeting (and subsequently issued to members vide LC Paper No. CB(2)394/98-99)) -

  1. the speaking note of the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs (S for CA) ; and

  2. the Consultation Report on Review of District Organisations (the Consultation Report).
2. At the invitation of the Chairman, S for CA said that the four key areas which the Constitutional Affairs Bureau must deliver results in order to achieve Policy Objective were -

  1. To ensure the full implementation of the Basic Law and promote understanding of the Basic Law;

  2. To maintain cordial and constructive relations with the Central People's Government and other Mainland authorities;

  3. To ensure continual development of the electoral systems; and

  4. To review and as appropriate implement changes to the structure and functions of district organisations.
As regards the detailed policy initiatives and work progess in these key areas, he referred members to his speaking note.

Consultation Report on Review of District Organisations

3. Members then proceeded to discuss the Consultation Report. The deliberations of the meeting are summarised in the following paragraphs.

Scope for further consultation

4. Making reference to paragraph 150 of the Chief Executive (CE)'s Policy Address 1998 which stated that "... I hope in the months ahead the Government will be able to achieve a censensus with the Honourable Members of this Council that these arrangements are in the best interests of providing an improved service to our community.", Mr Martin LEE asked whether the Administration would still consider proposals made by Members on the future development of district organisations. A few Members pointed out that the LegCo, at its meeting on 29 July 1998, had passed a motion urging the Government to actively consider the proposal of "one municipal council and one municipal services department"and to fully consult the various sectors of the community before making a final decision on the future development of district organisations. They asked whether the Administration would reconsider the option to merge the two Municipal Councils (MCs) into one territory-wide council.

5. S for CA said that the Consultation Report had summarised the public views collected during the consultation exercise and explained in detail the reasons for the Administration's conclusion on the review. Due to the fragmentation of responsibilities under the present structure, there was consensus within the community for the Government to be directly responsible for the provision of food safety and environmental hygiene services. As a result, proposals were made to overhaul the existing organisational structure with a view to putting in place a new framework from the beginning of the year 2000. The CE had announced in the Policy Address that a new policy bureau and a new dedicated department responsible for the environment and food safety would be set up. S for CA stressed that while the new structure proposed would improve co-ordination in policy formulation and implementation and service delivery, it was not a reflection of the inadequacy of the MCs. As regards the management of arts, cultural, sports and recreational services, the arts and sports communities had expressed concerns about fragmentation of responsibilities among various bodies and ineffective distribution of resources in the arts and sports fields. In the process of considering the new structure for delivery of these services, the Administration would take into account overseas' practices and the views of the arts and sports community. It was hoped that details of the new structure could be finalised before the end of 1998.

6. S for CA further explained why the "one council, one department" proposal was not considered feasible. He said that the co-ordination in management of food safety and environmental hygiene currently involved several policy bureaux and departments, namely the Department of Health; the Agriculture and Fisheries Department; the Health and Welfare Bureau and the Economic Services Bureau, in addition to the MCs and the two municipal services departments. To transfer such a wide spectrum of roles to the merged MC would far exceed the current remit and scope of responsibilities of the MCs.

7. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum criticised the manner in which the public consultation was conducted by the Administration - releasing selected public views, failing to provide details of the 1,600 completed questionnaires, according due weight to the quality rather than quantity of the views received, and consulting only the arts and sports community but not the public on the delivery of arts and culture, and sports and recreation services. He said that as a responsible Government, the Administration should conduct another public consultation exercise on the proposed new framework for delivery of municipal services in the coming three months. He opined that it was the consultation process rather than its outcome that mattered.

8. S for CA said that the Consultaton Report was the outcome of the public consultation exercise held in June and July 1998. To have further consultation on the proposals contained in the Report would be a never-ending process. S for CA assured Members that the Administration would continue to discuss with the Panel the implementational aspects of the review. Bills to implement the proposed changes would soon be introduced into the LegCo. The Administraion would have to win the support of Members on the legislation in the coming months.

Legislative work

9. Referring to Annex C of the Consultation Report, Miss Margaret NG said that the list of legislation that would need to be amended or repealed in order to implement the Government's proposals included 13 items, one of which referred to such other ordinances which contained references to the two Councils. In addition, there was a footnote indicating that the list did not yet include legislation currently administered by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department and Department of Health which needed to be amended as a result of the changes. Pending finalisation of the organisational structure of the new framework by the Administration and taking into account the time required for consulting Members, drafting legislation and going through the legislative process, she was concerned whether all the necessary legislation could be enacted before the end of 1999 to give effect to the proposed changes.

10. S for CA said that there were still 14 months between now and the end of 1999. He said that while legislation involving the transfer of functions of the MCs to other government departments would be more complicated and require careful scrutiny, many of the ordinances listed in Annex C involved only minor or consequential amendments. The legislation would be introduced into LegCo not later than May 1999.

11. In response to Miss NG, S for CA agreed to provide further information on the likely extent of amendments and the legislative timetable of these legislative proposals for Members' reference. Adm

12. In response to Members, S for CA said that the two MCs would continue to exist despite the fact that the terms of office of the incumbent members of the two MCs would expire on 31 December 1999. Some Members were concerned that there might be a vacuum in provision of municipal services in the event that the legislation to give effect to the new framework were not passed by the LegCo before the end of 1999, by which time the appointment of MC members would have expired. Mr LEE Wing-tat commented that because of the compressed timetable, LegCo would be under tremendous pressure to pass the legislation before the end of 1999, otherwise facing the risk of having no new structures in place to take over the responsibilities of the two MCs. Miss NG suggested and Members agreed that the advice of the Legal Adviser be sought on the possible consequences and legal implications involved in such a scenario. Clerk

13. On the Administration's fall back position, S for CA considered it inappropriate to speculate at this stage that the restructuring proposals could not be effected by the end of 1999. He said that in the eventuality that there was slippage in the legislative timetable, appropriate remedial actions would be taken by the Administration. In response to Mr SEZTO Wah, he said that extending the terms of office of MC members was one but not the only way to deal with the situation.

Public participation in community affairs

14. Mrs Selina CHOW said that according to the Administration, one of the broad objectives of the review was to streamline the existing structure with a view to ensuring the efficient and responsive delivery of municipal services to the evolving needs of the community. However, dissolving the MCs was not the only solution to achieve this objective. In addition, the proposals contained in the Consultation Report did not address many of the questions raised by Members in the motion debate on the subject, one of which was how the new structure proposed could maintain or enhance public participation in community affairs.

15. S for CA replied that the objective of the review was to identify how the various functions of the district organisations should best be performed in a well co-ordinated manner. To streamline the existing structure was a means to achieving this objective. As regards the question of public participation, he said that this could be viewed from two perspectives. As reflected in the public consultation exercise, the general public was concerned about the standard of service provision because of the fragmentation of responsibilities in management of food safety and environmental hygiene. There was majority public support for the Government to assume direct responsibility in these areas to bring about improvements. The new structure proposed for delivery of municipal services would among other things ensure efficient co-ordination and prompt response to food safety crises, hence beneficial to the community as a whole.

16. As to whether from a political viewpoint the MCs should be retained for ensuring public participation in community affairs, S for CA said that the Consultation Report had addressed this point. Prior to the 1980s, the then Urban Council was the only political institution with directly elected representatives. With the development of representative government in the Legislative Council and at the district level, it was questionable whether there was still the need to maintain the three-tier representative government.

17. The Chairman commented that as the total number of elected seats would be decreased as a result of the dissolution of the MCs, one could argue that there was less public participation. S for CA said that there was overlap in membership of the existing MCs and the District Boards (DBs). Upon dissolution of the MCs, the role and responsibilities of the DBs (to be renamed as District Councils) would be enhanced, and the number of elected members to the District Councils would be increased by about 10 % to reflect the increase in Hong Kong's population in recent years. This together with the role of the LegCo in monitoring Government performance would maintain public participation in community affairs.

18. Mr Ambrose CHEUNG Wing-sum said that he could not agree with the Administration that the new structure proposed would maintain or enhance public participation in community affairs. He pointed out that the MCs had decision-making powers and such powers were transferred neither to the LegCo nor the District Councils under the new framework proposed.

19. Miss Christine LOH said that while the Citizens Party supported the centralisation of management of food safety and environment hygiene by the Government, it nevertheless had reservation about the role of the District Councils which would not be vested with any executive powers. Miss LOH quoted overseas examples where county councils could usually exercise some kind of executive powers. She therefore questioned whether the Government's decision to dissolve the MCs was a move to take away such powers from the representative institutions. S for CA said that the matter had to be considered in the context of Article 97 of the Basic Law.

Public views

20. Mr LI Wah-ming referred members to Annex A of the Consultation Report on a summary of views of the 1,548 completed questionnaires which were prepared and issued by the Constitutional Affairs Bureau. According to paragraph 5 of Annex A, on the assumption that the Government assumed direct responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, 44% of the respondents supported merging the two MCs into one council and retaining the 18 DBs, 18% supported retaining the existing structure but improving the co-ordination between the two MCs, while only 17% supported dissolving the two MCs and transferring their functions to relevant policy bureaux and departments or other statutory bodies. Mr LI queried why the Government had not followed the majority view in making its decision on the future of the two MCs. He also pointed out that the arts and sports community was now concerned whether the proposed new structure would be less transparent than the existing structure, hence reducing the degree of public participation in the area of arts and sports.

21. Pointing out that the Consultation Report had referred to the views of four academics that the dissolution of the MCs would not adversely affect Hong Kong's democratic development and that any claim of a roll-back in democracy was grossly exaggerated, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong queried whether the Administration had only recorded views which were in support of its decision to dissolve the MCs. As far as he was aware, many academics had expressed views against the dissolution of the MCs in the media.

22. In response, S for CA emphasised that the majority of the public supported that the Government should assume direct responsibility for food safety and environmental hygiene, and that the existing structure of district organisations should be improved. He said that all submissions received by the Administration during the consultation period had been included in the Compendium of Public Views, and that it was not possible for the Administration to collect and record views expressed through various other channels in the Compendium.


23. The Chairman thanked S for CA for attending the policy briefing session and concluded that further discussion on the subject could continue at the coming meeting to be held on 19 October 1998.

24. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 11:40 am.

Legislative Council Secretariat
10 November 1998