Following is a question by the Hon Cyd Ho and a reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, in the Legislative Council today (June 30):
It has been a year since 500 000 people took part in the march on July 1 last year. Some organisations are planning to hold a march on July 1 this year again. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council of:
(a) the measures, policies and programmes introduced in the past year in response to the demands of the people participating in last year's march, including those relating to democratisation; and
(b) the contingency measures the Police will take to assist the participants in smoothly completing the march to be held on July 1 this year, so as to avoid the recurrence of last year's ordeal in which the march participants were stuck at the starting point for a long time under the scorching sun?
Regarding the first part of the question, there were a number of reasons for the procession on July 1 last year. It was triggered by anxiety stemming from the proposed legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law (Article 23) and dissatisfaction about the governance of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). Furthermore, quite a number of people taking part in the procession were worried about the economic situation at that time. This was further aggravated by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). During the procession, some people also expressed their aspirations about constitutional development.
As for the proposal of legislating for Article 23, the SAR Government decided shortly after the July 1 procession to shelve the legislative proposal. At present, we do not have any plan to re-submit legislative proposals to the Legislative Council (LegCo). If we have plans in this regard, we will ensure that there is full and thorough public consultation, especially in full co-operation with LegCo.
In the past 12 months, we have enhanced and strengthened our public healthcare system to better prepare for a potential infectious disease outbreak. New preventive measures include establishing the Centre for Health Protection, formulating overall contingency plans and conducting drills, utilising information technology in disease surveillance, strengthening communication with the Mainland and overseas healthcare institutions, and expanding the isolation facilities in public hospitals. We will continue to remain highly vigilant and will not drop our guard.
As for the economic situation, the SAR Government has adopted a series of measures to revitalise the economy in the past year. These include implementing the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement signed with the Mainland last year, participating actively in the Pan-Pearl River Delta cooperation framework among Hong Kong, Macau and nine Mainland provinces, and further promoting the Individual Visit Scheme and developing renminbi business. We have also arranged a number of sizable state-owned and private enterprises in the Mainland to be listed in Hong Kong and successfully launched the securitisation bonds of Government-owned tolled tunnels and bridges. This further consolidates the position of Hong Kong as an international financial centre.
Figures show that the economic restructuring policy implemented by the SAR Government has borne fruit. Economic growth for the first quarter of this year reached 6.8%. It is expected that the growth rate for the second quarter may be close to, or reach, double digits. The newly released unemployment rate is the lowest in the past 26 months, and the downward adjustment trend of employees' wages has improved significantly. Furthermore, the stabilisation of property prices has relieved, to a large extent, the problem of negative equity.
Although the economic situation has improved, the SAR Government will not be complacent. The SAR Government will continue to work diligently with various sectors of the community to promote economic restructuring, establish favourable conditions for economic growth, create business opportunities, endeavour to facilitate the development of industries and promote employment. The SAR Government will also continue to set aside resources to assist the working population of Hong Kong to enhance their employment skills and to meet the demands of economic restructuring.
On constitutional development, it is the Government's policy to support and actively promote the constitutional development of Hong Kong to move forward. In early January this year, the Chief Executive (CE) announced the establishment of the Constitutional Development Task Force. The task force has operated in a highly transparent manner and listened widely to the views of various sectors and individuals of the community through different channels. During the first three months of its establishment, the task force met with more than 80 organisations and individuals. In early February, the task force had meetings with the relevant departments of the Central Authorities in Beijing to exchange views on issues relating to constitutional development. At end March and in mid-April, the task force published its first and second reports on the issues of legislative process and principles relating to constitutional development. Before the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) made its interpretation and decision, the task force visited Shenzhen to reflect to the NPCSC officials the views of the Hong Kong people and explain the position of the SAR Government.
We appreciate that some people are disappointed about the NPCSC's decision, and that they are concerned about whether or not the NPCSC's interpretation would affect Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy. We understand that in the process of implementing "One Country, Two Systems", some people may still have doubts which flow from the inherent differences of the legal systems in the two jurisdictions. We will continue to explain this aspect as best as we can. At the same time, the Central Authorities and the SAR Government will adhere strictly to the Basic Law, and safeguard the principle of "One Country, Two Systems" and the existing values of Hong Kong. All these elements are cherished by the Central Authorities, the SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong.
Universal suffrage is the ultimate aim prescribed in the Basic Law. The NPCSC's decision leaves the Hong Kong community with room to improve the methods for electing the CE and the LegCo. To assist the community to promote the constitutional development of Hong Kong in accordance with the NPCSC's decision, the task force published its third report in May, setting out in detail possible areas for amendments to the two electoral methods. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the individuals of various sectors of the community for participating actively in the cross-sectoral seminars organised by the task force. These seminars enable the community to assimilate different points of view and discuss reform options suited to the development of Hong Kong. The task force has also started organising more cross-sectoral focus groups to enable a greater number of organisations, middle-class and grassroots personalities to discuss specific options on constitutional development so that they can make individual contributions to the options regarding arrangements for constitutional development.
We are fully aware of the keen public expectation for the Government to improve its governance and to better respond to the aspirations of the people. In the Policy Address this year, the CE put forth a number of measures to improve governance. In particular, we place emphasis on two aspects, namely enhancing public policy research and collecting the opinions of more middle-class people.
As regards public policy research, the Central Policy Unit (CPU) has started active discussion with the community on ways to promote public policy research and develop the human resources required. The CPU has also formed expert groups comprising academics, experts, professionals, research institutes and think-tanks to explore how best to promote public policy research and nurture the necessary talent. Furthermore, the CPU is conducting widespread consultation on selected policy research projects, which are forward-looking and important. Research will commence as soon as possible.
Furthermore, starting in April, the Home Affairs Department has been conducting, on a regular basis, focus groups to invite district personalities, made up primarily of the middle class, to discuss and exchange views on various public affairs and issues of public concern. This enables the Government to better grasp the viewpoints and opinions of the middle class in formulating relevant policies. We will appoint more middle-class managers and professionals to the Government's advisory boards and committees. We will interact more with political, social, cultural, religious and professional bodies whose core members come from the middle class. We will foster a closer partnership with academia and tap their expertise and research findings for the policy-making process. Through many channels, we are currently liaising closely with the representative organisations and bodies in various industries and sectors to identify suitable talent.
Regarding the second part of the question, the Police have always handled each and every public meeting and procession in accordance with the law. The same approach will be adopted in the handling of the procession on July 1. The Police will facilitate the smooth conduct of all lawful and peaceful public activities.
For the procession on July 1, the Police will take into account experience gained from last year's event and make suitable arrangements having regard to all circumstances and after liaising with the organisers to ensure the march proceeds safely and smoothly. The Police will maintain close liaison with the organisers and keep a tab on the latest developments before deploying staff and setting out traffic management measures. We trust that the procession on July 1 will be conducted smoothly, if organisers and participants cooperate fully with the Police and comply with the instruction given by the Police en route.
Ends/Wednesday, June 30, 2004