Eric Li Ka-cheung and the Accountancy Constituency in Legco 1995-1997
A Personal Message.....
Dear Friends, Colleagues and fellow Professionals,
This report aims at providing you with a quick overview of my activities in the Legislative Council during the past two years. Together, we have witnessed this eventful and historical period, marked by the establishment of the first fully elected Council in the history of Hong Kong and by the Handover celebrations. Despite prevailing uncertainties, pressures and prophets of doom, Hong Kong rose to the great challenge of ensuring a smooth transition. As an elected Member of the Legislature, I was honoured to participate in this process and to contribute to its success.
Despite the exhilaration of the journey, the frustrations, rewards and satisfactions, I never lost sight of my responsibilities as your Representative in the Legislature. I have remained totally dedicated to the interests of our profession and to the well-being of our community. By bringing to my work the enthusiasm, common sense and expertise that we share as accountants, I have ensured that our views are taken into account and that the contribution of our profession to Hong Kong, past, present and future is recognized. This report highlights some of our achievements.
While carrying out my duties, I have often asked for your advice and have kept you informed of important events and happenings. To this end, I have opened various channels of communication including a regular bilingual Newsletter, full texts of all Policy Address and Budget Speeches, a Legco Report column in The Hong Kong Accountant and quarterly reports to the HKSA Council which I have distributed electronically through the Internet. I hope you have found this useful.
As Hong Kong begins its new and exciting journey under the SAR Administration, the need for our voice to be heard will be more important than ever. It is crucial that we continue working together, with other society interests, for the continued prosperity and success of an autonomous Hong Kong.
I remain faithfully yours,
Eric Li Ka-cheung
In line with the policies of our profession, the primary focus of my work and interventions during the past two years has been the continuing prosperity, economic development and well-being of Hong Kong. I have stressed the need to provide the infrastructure, and the education and training necessary, to support this development. I have also helped define the scope and the limits of our responsibilities towards the less privileged members of a modern and caring community. Overall, I have tried, during these two years, to voice the concerns of our profession clearly and strongly, to explain how we view the challenges faced by Hong Kong and the role we intend to play as individuals and as professionals. I have also, at home as well as abroad, taken every opportunity to explain Hong Kong and to tell all audiences of our collective will and capacity to meet these new challenges effectively.
Working for a Smooth Transition
"We have a deeply rooted desire to live as free men, to decide our own fate and to set our own political agenda. This agenda will reflect the true aspirations and vision shared by the People of Hong Kong. To respect Hong Kong today, is to let us conduct our own affairs and fend for ourselves."
Speech on the Valedictory Motion - 27.6.97
Despite Hong Kong's economic successes, the two years leading up to the Handover were marred by tremendous political uncertainty and continuing differences between the British and the Chinese Administrations. As a member of both the Preparatory and the Selection Committee I can now testify not only to the tensions and pressures of that period, but also to the amount of work that was necessary to ensure a smooth transition and the setting up of the SAR. I believe that what we have achieved so far is a sound basis for what will be accomplished by the first HKSAR Legislature in 1998.
Speaking for the Accountancy Profession
"The Financial Secretary has also very positively responded to our suggestion to clearly map out in macro terms his strategy on the promotion of the services industry, and in particular my call on him to use the Trade Development Council as the vehicle to market the enormous benefits of our tax regime and the increasing significance of the service sector to our economy."
View from Legco Report, Hong Kong Accountant, March/April 1996
I am proud to report that, working closely with the HKSA, we have had considerable success in many areas of interest to our profession. A 'Summary Highlights' is provided on page 12. Further information can be obtained from my detailed quarterly reports, submitted to the HKSA Council, which you will find on my web site.
One of our major thrusts in this period has been to safeguard the confidentiality of tax records. Further to the recommendations and suggestions I made on behalf of the profession, several Bills, in the areas of Prevention of Bribery, Inland Revenue, Securities and Futures as well as Mutual Legal Assistance were either extensively amended or withdrawn.
Working with the HKSA, I was also able to keep at bay, changes to our Rules on the Incorporation of Accounting Firms e.g. raising the level of compulsory liability insurance proposed by Legislators; the Bills Committee on Subsidiary Legislation was eventually persuaded to accept the HKSA's original package completely intact.
I have also successfully persuaded the Government to withhold the controversial Securities and Futures Commission (Amendment No.3) Bill 1996 which could raise public expectations and possibly generate the mistaken perception that auditors of listed companies have a statutory responsibility to detect and report suspected fraud and management irregularities.
In my capacity as your Legco representative, I have also spoken extensively, both locally and overseas, for the Accounting Profession : the selection team of IFAC for the World Congress of Accountant 2002 , on the topic of Hong Kong's post-1997 political stability, as HKSA's keynote speaker at the CAPA conference in Beijing and to senior politicians and top officials of other countries most notably from China, Britain and the European Union.
Monitoring Hong Kong's Economic Policies and Public Finance
"Effective ways to strengthen the monitoring of public bodies and trading funds must be found. At present, public bodies are still not fully aware of the need for internal monitoring. It is a matter of urgency, therefore, that sound corporate governance be introduced to ensure that these bodies become fully accountable to the public."
Watch Your Public Assets - Legco Report Column, Hong Kong Accountant, July/August 1996
In my March 1996 response to the Budget Speech, I underlined the need for solid and sustained investments to help strengthen Hong Kong's economic foundations. I asked the Government to actively undertake a long term infrastructure investments programme, to foster close co-operation with the business community and to vigorously defend Hong Kong's long term interests overseas.
I also supported initiatives to streamline the tax system, with a view to enhancing business competitiveness, and to lighten, by various concessions, the tax burden of middle class tax-payers. I have initiated many meetings between top Government officials and the Tax, as well as other Committees of the HKSA; we have now become a regular and highly regarded "target" of Government consultations.
I have always made it clear that the accounting profession has an important role to play in the scrutiny of public finance. This was brought sharply into focus by my involvement in the Special Transport Panel. The questions I asked and the subsequent publicity these questions generated raised public awareness and dissatisfaction with poor controls over costs, tendering procedures, as well as the overall lack of transparency in the handling of the West Rail Project. As a result, a Sub-committee was formed and drastic measures were taken by the KCRC to significantly reduce the scale and the costs of the project.
I was also, during this period, elected Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The influential PAC has the important task of overseeing the Director of Audit Reports on Government accounts and value-for-money studies. During the period of my chairmanship, the PAC has significantly raised its public profile and output. At the same time, PAC also gained in stature as a highly professional and hard working Committee capable of delivering well balanced and soundly based conclusions. Our bi-annual reports have enjoyed a level of support that crosses all political party lines at the Legislative Council; it has also gained the respect and co-operation of the Administration.
Promoting Education and the Welfare of the Community
"Another important area for long term investment....must be to improve the skills of our workforce .... The Government should start by investing in our basic educational system and make it first class at ground level."
Response to the 1996 Budget Speech - 27.3.96
The future of our Community relies, to a great extent, on our capacity to provide our youth with the education and skills necessary to cope not only with their professional but also with their personal development.
I am very concerned by the results of a recent survey, which found that 40% of Hong Kong youths considered that money is more important than moral values. I urge the entire community to take serious note of these results. It is our responsibility to uphold the ethics of our young people. Let us not forget that they will determine the values of our future society. I have invited major employers, school heads, senior social workers and the young people themselves to explore programme ideas and to raise awareness of the importance of business ethics. As the Representative of a leading professional body in Hong Kong, I have also made the following appeal to my colleagues: 'Let the support of honesty, integrity, fairness and justice start with us.' (Uphold Your Ethics-Legco Rep Column, The Hong Kong Accountant, Jan/Feb 1996)
I also serve as Chairperson of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service. Most of you know that I have always underlined the need for strong involvement in our Community. I feel that it is my duty, as a responsible citizen, to uphold the principles of law, equality and humanity. I strongly believe in the importance of helping those in need and in helping them to help themselves. During the past two years, considering our budget surpluses, I have strongly advocated moderate increases in public expenditures to help tackle the problems of aggravating structural poverty among the needy. We are responsible problem solvers. We simply cannot remain silent and accept the fact that in affluent Hong Kong, as much as 11% of our population is still destitute.
A Vote of Thanks
In conclusion, I would like to thank you, my many accountant friends, for your time, friendship and assistance; you have provided me with the advice and knowledge necessary to broaden the scope of my work and interventions in the Council. Without your help and your continuing support, our many achievements would not have been possible.
Special thanks also go to my advisors who have provided so much help and support in the 1995 elections and over the past two years.
List of advisors
Eric's Biography in Legco : 1995 -1996
Prevention of Bribery (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill 1995
Sub-committee on matters relating to the Formation of Parliamentary Friendship
Financial Affairs Panel - Deputy Chairman
Eric's Biography in Legco : 1996-1997
Independent Police Complaints Council Bill
Sub-committee on matters relating to the Formation of Parliamentary Friendship
Financial Affairs Panel
Activities Summary : 1995-1997
During the two years I have endeavoured to act conscientiously, attending meetings with dedication and ensuring that the professional voice of Accountants was heard persistently and clearly in the Government.
Note*: Due to attending Preparatory Committee Meetings and HKSA/CICPA Conference in Beijing.
LEGCO QUESTIONS RAISED
Summary Highlights : 1995 - 1997