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Critics must face facts: Proposed DC reforms are essential

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Critics must face facts: Proposed DC reforms are essential

It comes as no surprise to us that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s plans to depoliticize the district councils (DCs) and redirect their focus to community-level livelihood issues have not been well-received by critics.

By Pearl Tsang and Kacee Ting Wong

Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Democratic Party, said the reduction of directly elected council seats was a pity. Paul Zimmerman, vice-chairman of the Southern District Council, said the proposed reforms would make it more difficult for authorities to accurately understand public opinion. Former councilor Yip Kam-lung called these reforms “regressive actions”. They should face up to our response.

First, DCs must be depoliticized because of the new circumstances. It’s a matter of grave concern that DCs had been politicized and deviated from their original roles and functions. Following the 2019 district council elections, most of the DCs became confrontational. Some district councilors even supported the advocacy of “Hong Kong independence”. What is at stake is not only the security of the city but that of the whole nation. Equally of concern is that some councilors were incompetent and failed to perform their duties.

We should dispel the myth that the proposed DC reform has a political agenda. The HKSAR government merely intends to restore DCs’ original consultative role, as stipulated in Article 97 of the Basic Law. As many people prefer simple untruths to complicated truths, the government should launch a publicity campaign to bring these constitutional constraints on politicization to the forefront of the residents. Indicative of the government’s intention to depoliticize DCs, the earlier decision to strip DCs of their membership on the Election Committee and of their influence in the Legislative Council has not escaped our attention.

Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine remind us that knowledge of the law has become a function of attitudes. They say that when we are not directly taught about what is in the law, the law becomes what we imagine it to be (The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes us Better or Worse). Obviously, the drafters of the Basic Law did not want DCs to be political organs. We should get this message understood as accurately as possible in the city.

Second, the reforms are in line with the principle of “executive-led government”, as prescribed in the specific provisions of the Basic Law. According to Maria Tam Wai-chu, one of the examples is the “Chief Executive Accountability System”, stipulated by Article 43 of the Basic Law (Department of Justice, Back to Basics (HK: DOJ, 2020)). District councilors will no longer elect their chairs. Instead, district officers (DOs) — government officials in charge of municipal-level administration — will preside over DCs, reverting to a practice last seen in the 1980s. One of the main duties of DOs is to help DCs convey residents’ views to the government. It hardly needs emphasizing these public servants are responsible to the government (Article 99 of the Basic Law).

Third, the appointment system has also attracted criticism. Under the reform plan, the government will choose 179 district councilors. To be fair, competitive elections do not often function in the idealistic way their advocates paint them. Obsessed with Western democratic dogmas, critics cannot accept that there are other alternative routes to legitimacy and good governance. If the last district council elections are any reference, we are sure that competitive elections do not ensure meritocracy. The theory of “output legitimacy” helps us to view legitimacy through a broader and more-balanced perspective.

As Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has correctly pointed out, DCs’ legitimacy is derived from what they achieve for the benefit of society. The secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai, has noted that the popular-vote system overlooked professionals and patriotic candidates who were reluctant to run in elections. These people have the potential to be very helpful to the community.

We also see a strong case for introducing the appointment system in district administration. Some professionals, who are active community officers, have been serving their designated districts for many years. Equipped with professional knowledge and community-level working experience, these community officers can help deliver good governance to their respective districts. In addition to taking good care of the residents in the designated districts, a few devoted community offices have wholeheartedly exposed themselves to a great variety of community work.

Fourth, the indirect election system has prompted a flood of complaints from the critics. According to the reform plan, 176 seats will be picked by government-appointed members of three existing neighborhood committees in the districts: the District Fire Safety Committee, the District Fight Crime Committee, and the Area Committee. It’s likely that most of the active community officers will participate in the forthcoming indirect election. Along with having more knowledge of the backgrounds of these council hopefuls, the members of the three committees are also familiar with their contributions to district work. As a result of the screening mechanism, members of the three committees could recruit the best and avoid the worst.

Fifth, the new accountability system can enhance the credibility of the proposed reforms. Under the reform plan, the government will introduce an accountability system to monitor the performance of councilors. Those who fail to promote the policies as assigned by the DOs could face disciplinary probes if no reasonable excuse can be given. It’s an underappreciated risk that a popular-and-competitive vote system often lacks a formal and effective post-election accountability mechanism. The shake-up will fill in these accountability gaps.

Finally, the nomination system will ensure only patriots run Hong Kong. Those seeking indirect or direct election must secure at least three nominations from each of the three committees and pass a national security vetting process. The nomination system brings the overhaul into complete harmony with the need to safeguard national security.

Pearl Tsang is chairwoman of Hong Kong Ample Love Society and co-director of district administration of the Chinese Dream Think Tank. 

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, and chairman of the Chinese Dream Think Tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/332506#Critics-must-face-facts:-Proposed-DC-reforms-are-essential

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

 

中國夢智庫|「新」區議會基礎性的「回歸本位」

持不同意見人士對特區政府進行的區議會非政治化、重點回歸社區民生問題的計劃,沒有表示太大歡迎,筆者認為這不足為奇。民主黨主席羅健熙先生對政府大幅度減少區議會直選席位表示遺憾。南區區議會現任副主席司馬文先生表示:有關計劃「比預期的更糟糕」(worse than expected)。他補充道,有關計劃將使政府更難準確地瞭解民意。前區議員葉錦龍先生認為,這些計劃是「倒退行動」(regressive actions)(註1)。請聽咱們細細道來。

首先,由於新形勢的不斷變化,區議會必須去政治化。「舊」區議會的運作變得非常政治化,早已偏離其原有的角色與職能,這些事實令大家感到嚴重關切。2019年區議會選舉後,在反對政府方面,大部分區議會成員持對抗態勢。某些區議員甚至支持港獨。這不僅關係到特區的安全,同時嚴重危害到祖國整體的國家安全。同樣令人關切的是某些當時的區議員表現強差人意, 未能履行區議員承諾的職責。

簡單的謊言比起複雜的真相更加悅耳,咱們要闢謠。大家注意,區議會沒有公開形或隱藏式的政治議程。根據《特區基本法》第97條,特區政府計劃僅僅是恢復區議會原有的諮詢(或協商)角色。有見於此,特區政府應舉行更大型宣傳活動,將這些限制區議會職責的憲制方針政策帶到每位特區居民的視野中。

有見特區政府進行區議會非政治化,筆者注意到,特區政府應考慮盡早解除區議會在《選舉委員會》的成員資格及其在立法層面的影響力。劉本(Benjamin van Rooij)與亞當·法恩(Adam Fine)提醒大家,當人們不是通過直接學習過程取得法律知識時,每個人想像中的規矩就是法律,法律知識會淪為態度的啟動功能(註2)。顯然,《特區基本法》起草前輩們沒想過把區議會納入政權組成架構。大家應在特區內儘可能準確地理解這一個「原意」(第97條)。

再來,政府的計劃符合《特區基本法》具體條文所設想的「行政主導政府」原則。《特區基本法委員會》副主任譚惠珠女士認為,支持此論點的其中一個例子有:《特區基本法》第43條規定的「行政長官是特區的首長,代表香港特別行政區。」制度(註3)。又有,區議員將不再會共同選出區議會主席。取而代之的是初見於1980年代的做法,負責各區級行政的「政務專員」(DO)政府官員主持「新」區議會機構。不容置疑,公務員DO們必須向政府負責(註4)。

第三,根據計劃,政府將任命179名區議員,這項「任命制度」事項成為了火力集中點。公平起見,「競爭性選舉」(Competitive Elections)的結果輸出往往與其擁護者所描繪的願景相距著十萬八千里。沉迷於「盎格魯-撒克遜民主框架」 (Anglo-Saxon Democratic Dogma)人士們不能接受其他通往合法性與善治途徑形成的選舉替代方式。有見即將舉行的區議會選舉,筆者確信「競爭性選舉」並不能確保精英政治。正如本專欄的另一位合著筆者早前指出,大家可以通過『合法性產出』(註5)來擴展咱們的視角,為選舉合法性問題富於更廣泛與更平衡的色調。

正如特首李生正確指出,各區議會的合法性來源在於它們集體為社會利益而取得的成績。 又如「政制及內地事務局」局長曾國衞先生補充說,普選制度忽視了作事相對背動的專業人士與愛國參選人。 這些人有潛力、有能力與有魄力為居民服務。

筆者還看到區議會層面引入「任命制度」的一個支持點。許多活躍社區的專業人員多年來一直扎根地區,為指定地區服務。許許多多的社區幹事(或主任)具備專業知識與社區工作經驗,協助各小區推行善政。除了照顧好指定地區的居民外,一些專心致志的社區辦事處也全心全意參與各種社區跨區工作。舉例說明,本文其中一位筆者在地區打擊欺詐罪行方面發揮了積極作用,獲「東區警區」指派為「防騙宣傳領袖團隊宣傳領袖」。為眾多默默耕耘在一線的社區幹事(或主任)點讚,大拇指竪起來!

第四,「地區委員會界別選舉」引起的反對聲音是此起彼落。根據政府的計劃方案,由18個地方行政區當區的3個委員會(分區委員會、防火委員會及滅罪委員會)以全票制選出。可能大多數活躍在各區的社區幹事(或主任)將參加即將舉行的間選。除了對這些潛在區議員背景瞭解外,三個委員會的成員也熟悉他(她)們早前對地區工作的持續性貢獻。由於採用了篩選機制,三個委員會的成員可以招攬最優秀的區議會成員,除弱留強。

第五,新的問責制度可以提高擬議計劃的公信度。 根據政府的計劃,政府將引入問責制度來監督區議員的工作表現。那些在沒有合理的理由未能執行DO分配工作的人士,可能會面臨紀律調查。一直被低估的「競爭性選舉」投票制度風險是硋選舉形式缺乏正式與有效的選後問責機制,「新」區議會將填補這些問責制度的空白。

最後,提名制度將確保只有愛國者才能管理特區事務。尋求間選或直選的參選人人需取得「三會」各3個提名,即合共 9 個提名,並通過國家安全審查程序。提名制度使「新」區議會與維護國家安全的需要無縫銜接,達致一致性。

事實與資料來源已核查

註 1: Kahon Chan「Hong Kong voters not being punished by plan to revamp district councils and cut directly elected seats, home affairs minister says」”In a statement posted on social media by ex-councillor Sam Yip Kam-lung, the group said the proposed changes were “not only regressive actions but also desecrations of the universal values cherished by the people of Hong Kong”.” SCMP 03.05.2023 available at: https://amp.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3219214/hong-kong-voters-not-being-punished-plan-revamp-district-councils-and-cut-directly-elected-seats

註 2: Benjamin van Rooij & Adam Fine「The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes us Better or Worse」 Boston: Beacon Press, 2021 at p 143

註 3: DOJ「Back to Basics」Hong Kong 2020 at p 256 “Not only that, an executive-led political system is contemplated in the specific provisions of the Basic Law, to be specific, in the power of the Chief Executive under Article 43 that provides the Chief Executive accountability system.” available at: https://www.doj.gov.hk/en/publications/pdf/Basic_Law_30th_Anniversary_Legal_Summit_Proceedings.pdf

註 4: 《特區基本法》第99(2)條: 「公務人員必須盡忠職守,對香港特別行政區政府負責。」

註 5: 何君堯、丁煌 「『合法性產出』理論解釋香港新選舉制度中『國家安全』的設計」 堅料網 20.09.2021 available at: https://n.kinliu.hk/kinliunviews/%e3%80%8c%e5%90%88%e6%b3%95%e6%80%a7%e7%94%a2%e5%87%ba%e3%80%8d%e7%90%86%e8%ab%96%e8%a7%a3%e9%87%8b%e9%a6%99%e6%b8%af%e6%96%b0%e9%81%b8%e8%88%89%e5%88%b6%e5%ba%a6%e4%b8%ad%e3%80%8c%e5%9c%8b%e5%ae%b6/

文:曾卓兒
民政及青年事務局東區民政事務處,北角西分區委員會副主席
香港弘愛會主席,「中國夢智庫」地區事務聯合總監
東區警區防騙宣傳領袖團隊宣傳領袖

文:丁煌
深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員
經民聯港島支部主席,「中國夢智庫」主席
國際公益法律服務協會顧問委員會成員
香港法學交流基金會副主席
全國港澳研究會會員