By Junius Ho and Kacee Ting Wong
To ensure that district administration will be in conformity with the twin principles of an “executive-led administration” and “patriots administering Hong Kong”, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has recently announced a shake-up of district councils. In the following discussion, we provide a historical lens for examining the rationale behind the overhaul of district administration.
In his first address to the Legislative Council, then-governor Chris Patten unveiled his controversial reform plans that aimed at strengthening the power base of the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong in the second half of the transitional period. He proposed that all district board members be elected and that they make up the electoral college that would choose the Legislative Councilors (Mark Roberti, The Fall of Hong Kong (NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1996), p 295). In 1994, all appointed seats were swept away to be replaced by directly elected members. It hardly needs reminding that Patten’s political reform was a further attempt to strengthen the power base of the pro-democracy forces in the city.
In the first two decades following the handover, the pro-establishment camp usually scored better results than the pro-democracy camp in the district council elections, and the district-level balance of power was tilted in their favor. Instead of focusing on district work, some district councilors of both camps either regarded their respective district councils as a steppingstone to help catapult them into the Legislative Council or as a convenient platform to expand the power base of their respective political parties. Not surprisingly, some pro-democracy forces succeeded in building their power bases at the district level by populist tactics. And thus district councils became the battleground of the two camps. Most disappointing is the attempt by the current-term district councils to politicize district administration following a landslide victory of the opposition camp in the 2019 poll.
In the second half of 2019, Hong Kong was at a crisis point on multiple fronts. In addition to the violent confrontations between the Police Force and rioters at the street level, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government was also threatened by the emergence of radical opposition forces at the district level. In November 2019, the opposition camp secured no fewer than 388 seats of the 452 spots available on the city’s 18 district councils under a “single seat and single vote” system. Some of the newly elected councilors paid scant attention to district work. Nor did they have any knowledge of community affairs. Some even supported the independence of Hong Kong and opposed the National Security Law for Hong Kong. The fog of rebellious impulse was hanging over various district councils.
Muddling from one dreadful miscalculation to another, some opposition-camp district councilors tried to use the district councils as a Trojan horse to destabilize the HKSAR government. For example, the Central and Western District Council passed several politically motivated motions in 2020 to embarrass and discredit some government departments. One of the motions was the code on the police’s access to their conference room.
Finally, the “primary election” held in July 2020 brought the subversive plans of the opposition camp onto the public radar. Some district councilors, including Tat Cheng Tat-hung and Shum Tsz-kit, were active participants in the primary election. Some 47 defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit subversion for organizing the “primary election”. During the trial, prosecutors alleged that these defendants plotted to turn the Legislative Council into a lethal constitutional weapon against Beijing.
Some district councilors of the opposition camps were authors of their own misfortune when they refused to take the oath of office pledging allegiance to the city and swearing to uphold the Basic Law. One of their worries was that the secretary for justice could initiate legal action if an individual was later deemed to have violated an oath. In fact, two-thirds of those elected in the 2019 poll had been disqualified or resigned over legal concerns in the past two years.
With the above background in mind, we strongly support Lee’s proposal to maintain political stability at the district level by de-politicizing the district councils. It is worthy of note that Article 97 of the Basic Law stipulates that district organizations are not organs of political power. They are essentially consultative bodies. Although the Anglo-Saxon version of competitive elections has been implanted in the subconsciousness of some young people in the city, we should respect the original designs of the drafters of the Basic Law. Moreover, elections do not play a role in the formation of many consultative bodies in Hong Kong. Some of these unelected bodies, such as the Housing Authority and the Urban Renewal Authority, have substantial administrative powers.
Connected to de-politicization is the pressing need to adhere to the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong” in order to safeguard national security. According to Lee, only one-fifth of the 452 seats will be determined by direct votes. The remainder will be appointed by district officers or picked by committees packed with hundreds of pro-establishment figures. The appointment system and indirect district council elections will ensure that the government could tie up all the loose national security ends in our two-tier political structure. In late December 2021, the Legislative Council was successfully revamped to ensure that seats were occupied only by patriots.
We also see a strong case for introducing the appointment system in district administration. Based on the experiences of many district councilors, we suggest that more professionals should be appointed by district officers to help deliver good governance to their respective districts. To cite an example, owner’s corporations (OCs) of many large residential estates have faced great difficulties managing their estates. District councilors with a legal background can provide valuable advice for OCs and owners to resolve their disputes over Deed of Mutual Covenant and other legal matters.
Guided and constrained by their respective Codes of Conduct, these appointed members must act ethically to uphold their independent views within the realm of their professional knowledge. Nor will they support policies based primarily on local interests. In the past, the not-in-my-backyard phenomenon was popular in many district councils. We do hope that appointed professionals and indirectly elected district councilors will represent wider and more-diverse interests of the community.
Lee set out three principles for the future district councils, which would oblige them to uphold national security, fully implement the goals of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, and fully reflect the administrative-led principle. We give Lee’s proposals a thumbs-up because these reforms could deliver good governance and meet the needs of the city. Lee also puts things right.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.
在2019年區議會選舉後的上半年，特區政府承受了來自多個方面的危機挑戰。防暴警員無奈地與暴徒上演街頭暴力對抗外，特區政府官員也受到區議會激進反對派勢力的正面威脅。2019年11月，反對派陣營在「單議席單票制」(Single-seat, Single-vote System)(註3)制度下獲得18區(共452個)區議員席位中不少於388席。一些當時的新當選區議員對社區事務是壓根的一曉不通，甚少關注地區工作也不足為奇。有些區議員甚至支持「港獨」、反對《港版國安法》立法。全港大多數區議會選區的上空都瀰漫着一層厚重的叛逆衝動陰霾。
基於上述背景，筆者全力支持特首李生的建議，即：「… 確保區議會是非政權性區域諮詢組織；… 要『去政治化』…」。這樣能夠確保管治穩定。大家注意，《基本法》第九十七條規定，地區組織(如: 區議會)不是政權機關。各種地區組織基本上是協商機構。需要指出，雖然「盎格魯-撒克遜」(Anglo-Saxon)式競爭型選舉方法已被植入特區一些年輕人的潛意識中；但是，咱們應該尊重與正確理解《基本法》起草者的原始設計(Legislative Intent 「立法原意」)。此外，特區有許多諮詢機構的建立過程沒有選舉要件，是非選舉產生的政府機構，如：「房屋委員會」與「市區重建局」，這些政府機構擁有相當大的行政權力。
這些經「委任制度」產生的「新區議會」專業成員在各自的行當中已被富指導性與完善的「行為準則」(Code of Conduct)所約束，必須按照普遍性、普通性與重要性道德水平行事，在其專業知識範圍內為大伙們提供獨立專業觀點。過去，在許多區議會流行「鄰避症候群」(Not-in-my-backyard)現象，富專業水平的新區議員是不會支持基於個別地方利益所產生的政策議題的。筆者衷心希望經「委任制度」與「間接區議會選舉」產生的區議員們能代表社會更廣泛、更多元化的社區組成利益。
註 1: Mark Roberti「The Fall of Hong Kong」New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1996 at p 295
註 2: 維基百科「香港區議會」available at: https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/香港區議會
註 3: 維基百科「單議席單票制」available at: https://zh-yue.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/單議席單票制
註 4: 維基百科「鄭達鴻」available at: https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/zh-hk/鄭達鴻_(香港)
註 5: 維基百科「沈子傑」available at: https://zh.m.wikipedia.org/zh-hk/岑子杰
註 6: SCMP 「Hong Kong national security trial: prosecutors accuse 47 opposition figures of plotting to turn legislature into ‘lethal constitutional weapon’ against Beijing」06.02.2023 available at: https://amp.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3209209/national-security-law-16-47-hong-kong-opposition-figures-contest-subversion-charge-major-trial