SCMP Friday, April 20, 2001
Anson delivers rousing swansong
MAY SIN-MI HON
Anson Chan Fang On-sang yesterday fired off a series of parting shots on a string of key issues in a frank and rousing swansong speech.
In an extraordinarily wide-ranging address, the top civil servant called for a tougher look at the pace of democratic reform and urged colleagues to speak up if they felt the territory's interests were under threat.
She said also Hong Kong must maintain an international outlook if it was to avoid becoming "just another city in China".
Her comments earned a 50-second standing ovation.
Speaking to an Asia Society luncheon audience of more than 1,000 at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, Mrs Chan said:
- Hong Kong should not delay public debate on the pace of democratic reform, including the introduction of full universal suffrage for the legislature and popular election of the chief executive after 2007;
- Beijing was happy to let Hong Kong enjoy autonomy including handling of the Falun Gong sect;
- The political neutrality of the civil service should be kept intact;
- The Government should discuss policy formulation with the legislature at an early stage;
- Hong Kong should enhance its competitiveness and people should maintain their standards of English.
Mrs Chan retires as Chief Secretary for Administration at the end of the month and will be succeeded by Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
She said "big decisions" lay ahead on the pace of democratic reform. Public debate on the issue could not be delayed for too much longer. "We must get the decision right in 2007 and we stand the best chance of doing so if we have a long, measured, structured and rational debate," she said. The Basic Law provides for popular election of the chief executive after 2007 and full universal suffrage of the legislature.
She said her experience showed Beijing had given autonomy to Hong Kong since the handover.
Citing the controversy over the Falun Gong, she said: "As President Jiang [Zemin] made clear to our Chief Executive recently in Beijing, the leadership is content to leave it to the SAR to deal with the Falun Gong issue within the autonomy the SAR enjoys under 'one country, two systems'. Given the sensitive nature of this issue to Beijing, can we ask for more?"
Mrs Chan stressed the need for the civil service to remain politically neutral. "I believe passionately in the notion of a politically neutral civil service recruited on the basis of intellectual ability rather than political patronage," she said. "In such a system, currying favour, political correctness, second-guessing and shoe-shining will not get you very far.
"Of course, the civil service can benefit by the infusion of outside talent . . . but the system must be bigger than any individual, whether from within or without."
She had this assurance for colleagues: "They know they can tender advice without fear or favour, safe in the knowledge that even the most unwelcome advice would not lead to blighted career prospects or unpleasant postings out of earshot of those who may not like what you have to say."
Labelled by some pro-Beijing figures as pro-Britain, Mrs Chan said: "Name-calling and suspicion based on outdated and emotive political labels are no substitute for reasoned discussion.
"Why do people insist on using terms like pro-China or anti-China? Or even pro-British? Surely we are all pro-Hong Kong."
On the relationship between the Government and legislature, she admitted it was under "some stress", but it was the sincere wish of the Government to improve it.
Mrs Chan said she was concerned that since the handover, Hong Kong people had become more inward looking. "People have looked towards the mainland at the expense of our traditional links with the rest of the world. Some are so concerned about integration that they seem to forget that our strength lies in the separation which is fundamental to the success of 'one country, two systems' - not just for Hong Kong, but for China as well."