Following is the statement by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Anson Chan, on "The Legislative Council and the Administration Working in Partnership" in the Legislative Council today (April 25):
With your permission, I would like to take the opportunity of my last attendance at the Legislative Council in my official capacity as the Chief Secretary for Administration to speak on an issue that is close to all our hearts, that is the relationship between the Legislative Council and the Administration and the need for us to work in constructive partnership to serve our community.
The Basic Law sets out the different roles and functions of the Executive and the Legislature. Given our different mandates, it is hardly surprising that we may not always see eye to eye on every single issue. However, such differences should not mask the fact that on a day to day basis, we work closely with this Council and we expend considerable energy and time in responding to Members' concerns. In many areas, and in a spirit of give and take, we have together achieved a great deal in the public interest.
As I have said on several occasions in the past, I and my colleagues fully appreciate and accept our constitutional obligation to be accountable to this Legislature. We understand that by engaging you in debates and discussions, explaining and defending our proposals, policies and decisions, and as is so often the case, modifying our proposals to accommodate the views of Members, that we stand a far better chance of having them understood, accepted and supported by the community at large.
My personal involvement with the Council dates back to 1989 when I was first appointed as a Member of this Council in my official capacity as the Secretary for Economic Services. I have worked closely with the Council since 1993 as head of the Civil Service, and for an almost equal period in my present capacity as the Chief Secretary both before and after the Handover. Over these years, I have witnessed some major changes within this Council and consequential improvement in our relationship.
Firstly, the make-up of the Council has changed. When I took up the job of Chief Secretary in 1993, the Council comprised 18 directly elected Members, 21 Members returned by functional constituencies, 18 appointed Members and three ex-officio Members. Today, all Members are elected in one way or another, without a single appointed or ex-officio Member. As a result of this evolution, the Administration does not have a single vote in this Council. The passage, or otherwise, of our policies, legislative and financial proposals rests very much on the merits of our case and whether we can persuade Members that the wider interest of the community has been satisfied.
Secondly, the management of the Council has also changed. In 1993, Mr John Swaine, elected from amongst and by Members of this Council, took over from the then Governor as the President of this Council. In 1994, Members elected from among themselves the Chairmen of the Finance Committee and the Public Works Subcommittee, and the Financial Secretary and myself ceased to chair these committees. In the same year, the LegCo Secretariat was delinked from the Administration and all civil servants were replaced by contract staff directly employed by the LegCo Commission. Developments in the past decade have put Members at the helm and given Members complete charge over the Council's business.
With the Handover, the powers of the Council are now set out clearly in the Basic Law. Members can amend or reject the Administration's legislative proposals; Members can refuse to accept the Administration's financial proposals; Members can set up select committees to inquire into all aspects of the Administration's activities, and Members can initiate debates on almost any subject of public interest. There is no doubt that Members exercise these powers robustly.
As the Council becomes more autonomous and representative, the issue of partnership between the Administration and Members of this Council has topped our agenda. Better cooperation between the Administration and the Council has been a regularly discussed topic in the past several years. The transformation of the then informal Omelco Panel system into formal committees of this Council in 1993 was a significant development for this co-operative relationship.
In 1996, the Administration made it a standing practice to consult the appropriate LegCo Panel on all major policy, legislative or financial proposals as early as practicable before their formal introduction into the Council or the Finance Committee. Where for any reason this could not be done, the Administration also made it a point to explain the circumstances fully when the proposal was put forward. We have adhered to this practice to this day. The Panel system is an invaluable forum for us to engage Members in the policy formulation process and to explain the government's position and exchange ideas with Members on a wide range of issues.
In order to strengthen this conduit between the Administration and Members, we have had further exchanges with this Council since October last year. As a result we have undertaken to enhance cooperation with Members in a number of areas, including -
* We will draw attention to and account for, where appropriate, variations in our final position from the view that we put to Members in earlier Panel discussions. To give effect to this latter point, we will need the relevant Panel to come to a definitive view at the conclusion of its discussion;
* We accept the Council's suggestion to allocate sufficient time for discussion of major government proposals at meetings of the relevant Panels. To ensure that Government's proposals, especially those which are time critical, can be dealt with expeditiously, we hope Government business will be given priority in the Panels' deliberation. To facilitate a fruitful and early exchange of views, we also hope that the membership will represent all the different political affiliations or parties and that Members will attend and participate actively in Panel discussions;
* We will provide periodic updates of the Legislative Programme we draw up for each legislative session to facilitate Members in planning their legislative work; and
* We will continue to submit in advance the amendments we propose to be made to bills to the relevant Bills Committees. To ensure the effectiveness of the system, we expect Members to do the same with regard to their proposed amendments.
Madam President, all these measures underline the importance that we in the Administration attach to forging a constructive partnership with the Legislature. I have no doubt that these efforts will continue under the able leadership of Donald Tsang as the Chief Secretary.
As for myself, I step down from my post at the start of next week. I have spent the better part of my life in the civil service. It has been a long but rewarding journey and I leave the Service a wiser and better person than when I started in 1962. I have enjoyed my involvement with the Legislature even though on occasions it has been a painful experience personally. But I have always respected the Council's constitutional right to question and to criticise. In response, I have always been prepared to listen and to learn.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to you, Madam President, for your fair-mindedness in presiding over the business of this Council, and for your personal efforts in promoting a more cordial and harmonious relationship between the Administration and Members of this Council. I pay tribute to the House Committee Chairman and the Vice-Chairman, both past and present, with whom I met on a regular basis to discuss Council business, for their role in facilitating communication and co-operation between the Administration and Members of this Council. Apart from discussing the day-to-day business of this Council, I am grateful to them for keeping me informed of some of the major issues of particular concern to Members. Last but not least, I pay tribute to all Members for your diligence and perseverance in discharging your duties and in holding the Administration to account. I think life would be far easier for all of us in the Administration if you were less conscientious.
Finally, I thank you Madam President and all members of the legislature, both past and present, for the courtesy that you have shown me over the years and for your friendship and support. Nothing that has happened these past seven years has moved my strong personal conviction that this Council has an important check and balance role to perform. I think we need to set aside prejudices and partisan politics and work together in mutual trust and respect to serve the people of Hong Kong. We must redouble our efforts on this front within the constitutional framework imposed by the Basic Law. The community expects nothing less.
Thank you, Madam President.
End/Wednesday, April 25, 2001