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Transcript of press conference on accountability system

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The following is the transcript of the press conference this (April 17) afternoon to explain the details of the accountability system for principal officials (English portion):

Reporter: The Basic Law states that the ultimate aim of Hong Kong is to achieve universal suffrage and my question is there have been a lot of criticism about the current revamp of the Government because people said it doesn't make any step towards beginning the process towards universal suffrage. Is this revamp a substitute for that debate and does the government have any intention to begin public consultations and keep the ball rolling on moves towards electing directly the Chief Executive?

Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang: Well, you're taking the matter very far. The timetable for considering constitutional reform is enshrined in the Basic Law. The next stage of constitutional action would be the enlargement of the franchise in the election of the legislature in 2004.And there will be further visit into a constitutional arrangement in 2007, and that is stated in the Basic Law. What we are trying to do now, is to inject a higher level of accountability among Government officials to the public through the legislature. They will be working much more closely with the legislature. To me, it is a positive step in preparation of the next stage of constitutional arrangements and development.

Reporter: If under this accountability system, Chief Secretary, public officials would have to go out and stump through their policies. Why don't they start with this policy? Why don't you have the people who are going to be named be named, and have them go out there and sell this change to the people, rather than try to promote the change and tell us later who's going to have the job?

Mr Tsang: I would love to do that if we have the resources for doing so. There is a question of approval for the posts by the legislature. We must do one thing at a time. What we are trying to do is to secure the legislative proposal for a transfer of authority from the present incumbents to the new holders . And secondly, more important, to secure the resources for the creation of these posts, to pay for these offices. So as soon as we have the resources for the creation of these posts, I am sure they will participate with us, with the rest of the civil service, and make sure that our proposed policy will be fully understood and there will be full interactions between the executive and legislature on all policy proposals.

Reporter: If it's a resource question, what is the resource implication please?

Mr Tsang: Well, what we need is money to pay for the 14 officials concerned. It amounts to about 43 million dollars a year.

Information Coordinator, Mr Stephen Lam: We have stated that within one year we intend to make the exercise cost neutral.

Mr Tsang: In other words, we'll find the savings to offset that expenditure within a year.

Reporter: Given the Chief Executive is not a member of political party, is it reasonable to assume that the same restriction will apply to these new appointments? And equally, is it reasonable to assume that none of these new appointees can be legislators for reason of restrictions in the Basic Law and so on?

Mr Lam: Clearly, a member of the legislature cannot become a principal official. That's in the Basic Law. That implies that we will not have a member of the legislature becoming any of the 14 officials. But there is no restriction about these principal officials being a party member or member of a certain organisation.

Reporter: ... language in the Basic Law ... the principal officials referred to include both the political appointees and the policy secretaries .....

Mr Tsang: The principal officials defined in the Basic Law include the secretary of departments, as you find out in the law, secretary of departments in that case refer to Chief Secretary's Office, the Financial Secretary's Office and the Secretary of Justice's Office, and also include the heads of bureaux, which we see now. What we are proposing to do is, under the accountability system, those officials are appointed to become the heads of departments as defined under the Basic Law, in other words, filling those three posts and also filling the heads of bureaux posts, as you find there.

The present incumbents as heads of bureaux will become the permanent secretaries. As a result, they will cease to be principal officials as defined under the Basic Law.

(Please also refer to the Chinese Portion.)

End/Wednesday, April 17, 2002

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