Constitutional Development in Hong Kong

Speech of the Hon KP Chan JP at the Legislative Council on 24 June 2010 Resolution On Constitutional Development (Synopsis)

MR PRESIDENT: Constitutional development in Hong Kong concerns interest and wellbeing of the entire community. Each of us, citizens and Councilors alike, has our own views, but I am convinced that we all have one wish in common, ie the political system should go forward.

Admittedly, the future of Functional Constituencies is a crucial issue in the debate of reform and I would like to express some views on this occasion. Functional Constituencies were first introduced under British Administration with a view to maintaining and upholding capitalism in the territory. Among its original intents was to allow different voices in society to be heard in the Legislature as a means of achieving equal participation as well as check and balance.

The underlying essence of such check and balance is that many professions and sectors are significant not because of their population size but because of their importance to socio-economic development of Hong Kong. Functional constituencies represent voices of the minority or non-mainstream. If the Government introduces or repeals a policy solely upon majority support or opposition, minority views and interest would often be neglected. Worst still, Hong Kong’s long term interest might be compromised for short term benefits.

A fellow Member says that Functional Constituencies should be abolished because their representatives in this Council did not support minimum wage. I have no idea why such proposal could not get passed previously but I am very supportive. However, as we proceed to legislate, I then realize that there are many problems to consider. For instance, how do we protect the handicapped from discriminations? Would the least competitive be still able to find a job? Would elder workers lose their jobs? Many employers have even threatened to lay them all off. Hence, it would take time for thorough deliberation but I do not believe they are show-stoppers.

Yet, I find it frustrating that many people are condemning Members representing Functional Constituencies on this pretext. Notwithstanding, I respect other’s right to speak up and this is true democracy. Those acting against democracy in the name of democracy are the worst of all politicians, and this is conduct most unbecoming.

As we know, the Government is not bounded to act on Member’s Motions passed in this Council. There is a misconception that Members representing Functional Constituencies might be exerting “undue influence” on the Government to set aside Motions that they did not support. I do not believe so. Two cases in point are my Motions on medical check-up for the whole population and new occupational culture campaign. They have been passed unanimously but the Government is yet to act on them.

Many people are acclaiming universal suffrage. If we look around the world, unemployment rate is over 10 percent in many countries in Europe and America where there is universal suffrage. The rich/poor gap is getting worse and collaboration of businessmen and bureaucrats are also rather serious. We must ask a question: Why could not these countries resolve these problems? In Hong Kong, an unemployment rate over 4 percent is already an annoyance. If our unemployment went up to 10 percent, social consequences would be inconceivable. We have to hold a fair view. We have to explain to the public that Functional Constituencies do have their problems but they could not be abolished overnight and without a proper plan. I shall elaborate later.

All our problems would not go away with the abolition of Functional Constituencies. If their abolition would provide immediate solutions to all problems, I offer to surrender my seat tomorrow. I absolutely mean what I say. I am convinced that many people understand and realize contributions of Functional Constituencies to politics in Hong Kong. It is a pity that nobody is willing to come forward and speak up.

Are prolonged quarrels doing any good for Hong Kong? A foreigner friend of mine asked me earlier on his return from Europe: “What the hell is the Legislative Council doing?” He said that many countries in Europe were likely to raise tax substantially in the near future. Thus, his company was looking for investments in Asia as an alternative.

Naturally, he was choosing between Hong Kong and Singapore. I felt upset when he described the many advantages of Singapore because I have been urging the Government to promote Hong Kong and to attract foreign investors to move regional headquarters to Hong Kong bringing along more employment opportunities. My friend said that Singapore had three distinct advantages. Firstly, air quality is good. Secondly, politics is stable. One would expect the whole country to work closely together even after ten years. Thirdly, relationship of the Government and business sector is excellent. They have reclaimed a large piece of land between Indonesia and Singapore for exclusive use of innovative and electronic technologies and prepared to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in development.

As a tenderfoot Member, I am disturbed and feel sorry for this Council. Frankly, I have never thought that the Legislature is a place of so many disputes. Yet, after serving it for many months, I realize that there is a mission for us to accomplish because Hong Kong would be facing even greater challenges if the voice of business sector were not heard. Therefore, all should be aware that Hong Kong today is not as prosperous as many of you are depicting. If you really care about Hong Kong, you should help improve the economy and employment and avoid conflicts like class conflicts or employer/employee conflicts. We representatives of the Functional Constituencies have a cause to retain our seats in this Council.

Now, the Democratic Party has endeavored to get a modified scheme for us. In my view, they have made a remarkable achievement. Ironically, the modified scheme concerns Functional Constituencies. What they have got for new Functional Constituencies would be helpful to the development of direct election in practice. These new Members would come from Districts and would be devoted to local affairs. Moreover, as they would be elected by hundreds of thousands of voters throughout the territory, the welfare of people would be their concern too.

Notwithstanding, the Central Government still gave its endorsement in realizing that quarrels should not be allowed to prolong and Hong Kong should take another step forward.

I have conducted an opinion poll within my sector. Like similar exercises in other sectors, the response rate was low because of the general lack of interest in politics particularly the business sector. However, I have a few advices for my supporter or electorate. Don’t be apathetic in future. You must speak up for the middle class and the business sector. If you don’t, others would bully your and insult you. Don’t mistake free to choose silence as real freedom. This is illusive and fallacious. If Hong Kong does not have a responsible and dynamic business sector that strives for wellbeing of people to create more job opportunities and more economic opportunities, what would they get?

Let me cite an example. Some have called for besieging the Legislative Council building today. May I ask my fellow Members a question: Have any of you asked your children to participate in besieging? In case of injuries or even casualties, who would be most sorrowful? Would it be you or their parents? Are you aware that many police officers who are on duty today also “post-80s”? Again, in case of injuries, who would be most sorrowful? It would be their parents and relatives, wouldn’t it? Are those citizens or “post-80s” overly reactive in behaviours simply because they do not know the full picture? Therefore, it does not matter what you would like to say and how you would say it in future. Do look at both sides of the coin. Don’t just take side and try to argue for the sake of argument with your talented tongues.

As Members of this Council, we are all conversant with rules of the game. Member’s Motions are not binding on the Government. Don’t just put the blames on fellow Members representing Functional Constituencies. Functional sectors are not “demons” as labeled by some. In fact, among the 30 Members representing them, I would say well over 20 are dedicated to serve both their own sectors and the community at large.

Functional sector is just a label. What matters is the concept behind. If any reform were made to Functional Constituencies, the concept behind the success story of Hong Kong should always be kept intact. What we want is equal participation embracing all voices including those of the business sector. A society would be imbalanced without voices of the business sector. I could hardly imagine what a society would become if there were only voices of ordinary people but not the business sector. I reiterate the significance of maintaining equilibrium.

I also share the views that current electoral arrangements of Functional Constituencies are problematic. The Government should seriously review these arrangements with a view to enlarging the electorate. However, I do not agree with the Hon Leung Ka-lau that enlargement alone would serve the purpose. The medical sector, of which he represents, is rather straightforward. The profession is homogeneous and views are often consistent. In many sectors, like insurance industry, profiles are different. Insurance industry comprises insurance companies and intermediaries. There are some 170 insurance companies but only about 140 are registered voters. They engage about 50,000 agents and over 10,000 other workers, ie a total of 70,000 people. It might not be desirable to allow all these 70,000 people to have equal say in how insurance companies would operate.

In my view, “one man one vote” is not necessarily the most desirable system, but it is a universally and socially accredited system. Comparing with many other places where universal suffrage is century old, Hong Kong has only just begun with a history of 10 odd years. It takes time for us to evolve in these universal systems. What is most crucial in my view is candidature of the competent. If systems were poor and the elected were often being bullied, no competent person would declare candidature. If all candidates were “rotten apples”, those elected would still be “rotten apples” even if all 7 million might vote, wouldn’t they? Similarly, the electorate should also be knowledgeable. If they had no idea of their choices of candidates and, say, simply supported those who are critical of almost anything, the outcome would be electing people to the legislature who habitually condemn others. When the electorate is sufficiently knowledgeable in exercising its voting rights, it is perhaps the right time for “one man one vote”.

Mr President, with these observations, I conclude my remarks.

Note: This is a synopsis of the Hon Chan’s impromptu remarks at the debate on the Resolution.

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