SCMP Tuesday, October 10, 2000


Fault lines showing

Hong Kong's system of government is unsatisfactory because the construct is basically flawed. The longer it runs along present lines, the more obvious the faults become. Although nothing fundamental can be done to change things before the Basic Law allows a move towards universal suffrage after 2007, it makes sense to open discussions now on the best way forward.
To date, the Chief Executive has been disinclined to consider a ministerial system. But the fact that his special adviser, Paul Yip Kwok-wah of the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, has helped organise a workshop on political reform for later this month suggests it has official blessing, perhaps with the acquiescence of Beijing.
There is a growing public acknowledgement of weaknesses in the present system. As long as policy secretaries have responsibility without accountability, while legislature and executive grow more estranged, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa gets blamed, often unfairly, for every unpopular policy or error of judgment, from the civil service reform to the sad case of the autistic boy missing in Shenzhen.
Bringing in professionals to oversee essential departments, or giving portfolios to executive councillors, should result in a more efficient and accountable government. The electorate is promised a fully democratic system eventually. Nothing will be gained by postponing all important change until the last moment. Whatever formula is adopted, the changes will be profound. All branches of government should be consulted, since they must implement them. The public, too, needs time to understand what is at stake and how it will be affected.
This is an era of constitutional change, whether by consensus as in the European Union or by revolution as in former totalitarian states. The conference decision to import delegates who have experienced the process means the SAR can examine all options and gain from their experience. This workshop is a good beginning. Although reform is not imminent, it is good to be prepared. The task now is to see that the momentum is maintained.