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Proposed district council reforms embody new core values for HK

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Proposed district council reforms embody new core values for HK

By Chan Cho-leung and Kacee Ting Wong

Although the good intention behind the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s decision to shake up district councils is married to a post-election accountability system that is capable of ensuring the delivery of good governance and allowing residents to have a real taste of the fruits of effective governance, critics still insist that the proposed reforms will cause democratic regression in Hong Kong. John Burns, an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, argues that the new district representatives would act as cheerleaders for the government (Chan Ho-him, There Will Be Only One Voice: Hong Kong Stifles Its Grassroots Democracy, in the Financial Times). We think his observation is totally wrong.

It’s impossible to understand the rationale behind the revamp of district administration outside the context of the emergence of radical anti-China disruptive forces at the district level in late 2019. In November 2019, the “pan-democratic” camp secured 392 of the 452 seats available on the city’s 18 district councils under a “single seat and single vote” system. In January 2020, hundreds of “pan-democratic” district councilors refused to attend a briefing by the then-chief secretary for administration, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

Some newly elected district councilors were fond of politicking, which is not supposed to be their purview. For example, the Yuen Long District Council set up a task force to look into the attack by a mob on their opponents at Yuen Long Railway Station in July 2019. Riding on a fresh wave of confrontational populism, the Central and Western District Council passed several politically motivated motions in 2020 with the purpose of embarrassing and discrediting some government departments. One motion focused on the code on the police’s access to their conference room.

To make matters worse, some district councilors even covertly supported “Hong Kong independence”. But many of their noncore supporters did not pay much attention to their hidden political agenda. Only those who knew them best trusted them the least. Finally, their hostility toward the government attracted wide media coverage when the “pan-democratic” camp held their so-called “primary election” in July 2020. Some district councilors were active participants in the “primary election”. Some 47 individuals have been charged with conspiracy to subversion for organizing the “primary election”, which was part of a plot to paralyze the HKSAR government. Besides, some district councilors believed that they faced no task more important than opposing the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

It was against this backdrop that the government decided to shake up district councils to ensure that district administration should be in conformity with the twin principles of “executive-led administration” and “patriots administering Hong Kong”. The proposed reforms, when implemented, will depoliticize district councils. The government will also play an important role in monitoring the performance of councilors after elections.

The design of the new district councils will be credited with a fundamental value change to meet the special needs of Hong Kong in the post-riot era. An emphasis on output legitimacy, a post-election accountability system and a meritocratic appointment system represent the new core values against which the effectiveness and accountability of the revamped district councils will be measured. However eloquently those Western narratives are made in support of Anglo-Saxon democracy, we are not persuaded that a popular and competitive election system is the only route to legitimacy and good governance. Critics of the proposed district council reform may be suffering from severe information disorder syndrome.

We start with the first core value. Instead of emphasizing the legitimizing role of competitive elections, proponents of output legitimacy argue that the ability of district councilors to deliver good and effective governance will also confer legitimacy on the district councils. In an interview with reporters of the Voice of America, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang strongly criticized the “undemocratic” composition of the new district councils. Under the reform plan, the new councils will consist of 179 appointed seats, 176 indirectly elected seats and 88 directly elected seats. Leung is of the dogmatic view that the conceptual bond between competitive election and legitimacy cannot sustain competing alternative interpretations. Having blind faith in Anglo-Saxon democracy, he believes that only competitive elections can confer legitimacy on the district councils.

Those who cannot remember the major defect of Western democracy are condemned to repeat it. In the words of French historian Pierre Rosanvallon, the crisis of parliamentary democracy is that it cannot deliver good governance and outcomes. He emphasizes that no one believes any longer that democracy can be reduced to a system of competitive elections culminating in majority rule (Pierre Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity). Since the outbreak of the financial crisis in the US in 2008, serious doubts have arisen about the ability of Anglo-Saxon democracy to deliver good governance. The current cost-of-living crisis in the United Kingdom has further exposed the weakness of parliamentary democracy in bringing real benefits to people.

The second core value is a post-election accountability system. With the exception of Switzerland, most Western democracies have paid scant attention to such an accountability mechanism. In Switzerland, any law enacted by the elected legislative branch can be vetoed by a vote of the general public. Under the reform plan, the HKSAR government will introduce an accountability system to monitor the performance of district councilors. Those who fail to promote the policies as assigned by the district officers — government officials in charge of municipal-level administration — could face disciplinary probes.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has emphasized the importance of key performance indicators (KPIs) in managing for results. We firmly believe that the KPIs will play an important role in monitoring the performance of district councilors. When Tung Chee-hwa became the first chief executive of HKSAR, he also intended to focus more on managing for results (Colin Sankey, An Overview of Public Sector Reform in the Hong Kong Government Since 1989, in Anthony B.L. Cheung and Jane C.Y. Lee (eds.), Public Sector Reform in Hong Kong (HK: Chinese University Press, 2001)).

The last core value is a meritocratic appointment system. Some professionals, who are also active community officers, have been serving their designated districts for many years. Armed with professional knowledge and community-level working experience, these prospective appointees can help deliver good governance to their respective districts. Finally, the nomination system will ensure that only patriots run Hong Kong. We are confident that the nomination system will bring the overhaul into complete harmony with the need to safeguard national security.

Chan Cho-leung is chairman of New Territories East Branch BPA, an Election Committee member, and adviser of rural affairs and district administration of Chinese Dream Think Tank.

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.

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|區議會 

儘管特區政府全心全力推出完善區議會方案,有機結合選舉後問責制度,展示出新制度能確保與實現良政善治理念,並能讓全港市民真正體驗到有效治理地區事務的成果。但是,持不同意見人士依然批評這些改革使特區民主進程倒退。香港大學名譽教授卜約翰(John Burns)認為,新的區議會成員們將充當支持特區政府的搖旗吶喊之輩(註1)。筆者對卜約翰教授的觀點不敢苟同。

如要正確理解區議會改革背後的理據, 大家必須先清晰了解於2019年底的那埸發在區議會層面的激進反華破壞勢力背景。當年11月,民主陣營在「單議席單票制」制度下,於特區18個區議會的452個區議員席位中獲得392個席位。 2020年1月,數百名民主派區議員集體拒絕出席時任政務司司長張建宗的簡報會。

一些新當選區議員高調參與政治議題,將關注力度放在他(她)們不應該過度關注的政治事宜。 舉例說明,元朗區議會成立專責小組,調查於2019年7月在元朗火車站的襲擊事件。在新一波對抗性民粹主義浪潮中,中西區區議會於2020年通過多項出於政治動機考量的議案,目的在於詆毀部分政府部門,令政府高級官員難堪。大家應該還記得其中一個動議是要求警方進入會議室時必須遵守特別事項。

還有更糟糕的是一些當時的區議員甚至暗中支持搞港獨。許多民主陣營非核心支持者並沒有過多關注當時反對派區議員們的隱藏式政治議程。 只有民主陣營非心支持者們才意識到事態的嚴重性。最後,當時反對派區議員們對政府的敵意在2020年7月舉行初選達到了一個頂峰,引起廣泛性媒體報道。部分當時的區議員們更積極參與初選。如今,約47名相關人士因籌辦上述民生派初選而被控串謀顛覆政權罪。此外,當時有些區議員更認為,他(她)們作為區議員的最重要任務是反國安法。

在這種特殊社區背景下,特區政府為確保區議會行政應符合「行政主導」與「愛國者治港」兩大原則,決定改組區議會。這些區議會改革的實施將在很大程度上取決於特區政府在區議會非政治化這個領域所作出的努力。於此同時,特區政府還將發揮積極作用,監督眾區議員們選舉後的工作表現。

即將成立的新區議會設計藍圖重點將為區議會層面帶來根本性的價值轉變,以配合特區在暴亂後時代所面對的特殊需要。新架構強調「合法性產出」 (Output Legitimacy)、「選舉後問責制度」(Post-election Accountability System)與「任人唯賢制度」(Meritocratic Appointment System)。特區政府以此核心價值觀來衡量新區議會的有效性與問責制度。儘管那些支持「盎格魯-撒克遜式民主」(Anglo-Saxon Democracy)論敘仍是雄辯濤濤,但絕大多數理性市民並不相信那種具民眾劇烈競爭性的選舉制度是通往合理性與善政的唯一途徑。可以這麼說,現時批評區議會改革的群體可能集體患上了「嚴重資訊障礙 綜合症」(Severe Information Disorder Syndrome)。

筆者從上述第一個核心價值講起。在接受美國之音記者採訪時,特區前本土派立法會議員梁頌恆(梁某)強烈批評即將舉行的區議會的組成方式「不民主」(註2)。誠然,「合法性產出」的支持者不注重極富競爭性選舉能將制度的合理化的作用,反之,他(她)們認為,區議員應提供良好與有效的治理地區事務的能力,這些更能為新區議會賦予適當的合理性。

根據相關改革方案,新的區議會將由179個任命席位、176個通過間接選舉與88個直選席位組成。梁某的教條式主義觀點認為:「… 區議會只是一個咨詢架構,並沒有行政和立法權。區議會之所以可貴是由於它理論上不存在篩選,採取由選民一人一票選舉的模式。可是現在港府不讓港人自由選擇區議員,這算是什麼咨詢呢?…」。梁某之所見是因為他過度盲目相信「盎格魯-撒克遜式民主」,認為只有你死我活的競爭性選舉才能賦予區議會合理性。

那些忘卻西方式民主主要缺陷的人們註定要重蹈覆轍。根據法國歷史學家皮埃爾·羅森瓦隆(Pierre Rosanvallon)(註3),「議會民主制」(Parliamentary Democracy)的危機在於它不能為人民帶來良好的治理與結果。 羅森瓦隆教授強調,沒有人再相信民主可被簡化為以多數統治為最終的競爭性選舉制度(註4)。自2008年美國金融危機爆發以來,人們對「盎格魯-撒克遜式民主」實現良政善治的能力產生嚴重懷疑。英國目前的生活成本危機進一步暴露「議會民主制」在為人民帶來真正利益方面的弱點。

第二個核心價值是「選後問責制度」。大多數西方民主國家對這種問責機制的關注度都很少。只有在瑞士,如社會上有不同聲音時,民選立法部門頒布的任何法律都可以被公眾通過投票否決(註5)。根據特區的區議會完善計劃,政府將引入問責制度,以監督區議員當選後的表現。那些未能按照民政事務專員要求推廣區議會事項的人可能會面臨紀律調查。
特首李家超還強調「關鍵績效指標」(KPI)在成果管理中的重要性。筆者堅信,KPI將在監察新區議員的表現方面發揮積極的作用。董建華先生出任首任行政長官時,也打算加強注重成果管理的力度(註6)。

最後一個核心價值是「任人唯賢制」。一些專業人士長年活躍在社區服務一線上,多年來一直為指定地區服務。憑藉他(她)們專業知識與社區工作經驗,將被委任區議員們可以更好地為當區實現良政善治。最後,「提名制度」將確保「愛國者治港」。筆者相信,「提名制度」將使完善區議會選舉與維護國家安全的需要一致化。

註 1: Chan Ho-him「There will be only one voice: Hong Kong stifles its grassroots democracy」in The Financial Times 05.05.2023 available at: https://www.ft.com/content/d329bad9-0a9a-4b9d-a936-f28c41801074
註 2: 高峰「香港民主進程倒退 區議會直選比例減至兩成設資格審查」中國時間 02.05.2023 available at: https://www.voachinese.com/amp/hong-kong-plans-electoral-overhaul-for-district-council-20230502/7074866.html
註 3: 皮埃爾·羅森瓦隆(Pierre Rosanvallon) available at: https://academic-accelerator.com/encyclopedia/zh/pierre-rosanvallon
註 4: Pierre Rosanvollah「Democratic legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity」US: Princeton University Press 2011 at p 219-226
註 5: Robert Longley「Direct democracy: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons」ThoughtCo. 02.02.2023 available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-direct-democracy-3322038
註 6: Colin Sankey「An Overview of Public Sector Reform in the Hong Kong Government Since 1989」in Anthony B.L. Cheung and Jane C.Y. Lee (eds.)「Public Sector Reform in Hong Kong」Hong Kong: Chinese University Press 2001 at p 11

文:陳灶良,MH,JP
《中國夢智庫》鄉事與地區事務顧問
經民聯新界東支部主席
選舉委員會委員
大埔南分區委員會委員

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

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