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Is the Accountancy Functional Constituency Fated

For years, I was perturbed by the very low voters registration rate of the Accountancy Functional Constituency. It seemed to indicate that the majority of accountants did not wish to have a say in their own affairs, nor in the political and economic environment around them.

However, the recent election changed that picture - with 9,902 registered voters, and a voter registration rate of 81 per cent, we are the third largest functional constituency. And, the very respectable turnout rate of 59 per cent on 24 May, demonstrated that accountants are truly civic-minded and responsible voters. I am both relieved, grateful and proud to have received such a convincing and dignified mandate.

Political campaigning is hard work. But the intense process of setting out my election platform and explaining it to fellow members has helped me to focus critically on the current issues most affecting the profession. In addition, I received many thought-provoking and often surprising comments on certain matters that we tended to take for granted, such the continual existence of the Accountancy Functional Constituency seat. Receiving such a wide array of comments ahs definitely been a worthwhile exercise, but it is not an end in itself. Now, it's time for decisive and painstaking action to make the election actually mean something to us all.

In the face of the current economic turmoil, it is not surprising that many of us are most concerned about the state of the Hong Kong's economy. Even before LegCo began its current session, I was actively involved in shaping public opinion on matters such as the possible floatation of public corporations, (such;) acceptance of deficit budgets in the next two years to help stimulate the economy; regular review of GDP's growth rate; and the streamlining of the civil service and its pay structure. These are issues that I take very seriously, and ones which will receive my constant and continuos attention. In these regards, my quarterly (periodic) circular, "Eric's Bits and Bytes" and web site will soon provide a fuller account of all my findings and I took look forward to receiving your input.

In this article however, I would like to introduce a fundamental question about the Accountancy Functional Constituency on which I plan to solicit your views. The question in mind centres around geographically-based direct elections. The massive 53 per cent region-wide turnout in the recent election took everybody by surprise. It demonstrated that Hong Kong's registered voters are more than willing to pick their own political leaders through geographically-based direct election.

Furthermore, several accountants mention to me that, as a matter of principle, they would not vote in a functional constituency. I find it interesting and thought-provoking that over 300 voided votes were cast in our functional constituency election, quite a few of which included comments from members stating that they would prefer to vote only in a geographically based direct election.

In July 1987, the HKSA conducted a survey amongst Society members to gauge whether there was any interest in creating a functional LegCo seat for the accountancy profession. Ninety-nine per cent of respondents supported the proposal. However, 73 per cent replied that they wanted direct elections, of which (with) 40 per cent believed that they should be introduced immediately. The number of accountancy students who wanted direct elections was even higher, at 50 per cent.

About a year later, as a member of the Society's Basic Law Working Group, I wrote about the future of the political structure on behalf of the profession. In the comprehensive position paper submitted to the Basic Law drafters, I wrote the following:

  • "We believe that the people of Hong Kong ought to be given universal adult suffrage as an ultimate goal. This ought to be clearly defined in the Articles KK"
  • "Informal and civic education are being promoted earnestly and there will be numerous elections held regularly. Undoubtedly, civic sense will rise and fuel the demand for a chance to exercise (equal) individual voting rightsKK"
  • "The Basic Law should provide for a trigger point to allow for full-scale elections by universal adult suffrage in the event that not less than half of all HKSAR eligible voters actually cast their votes, KK The fact that a majority of voters have made the conscious efforts to exercise their civic rights must have marked an end to the long-held defence of the need to protect the silent majority. It also amounts to the same effect as a referendum in support of election by universal adult suffrage."

To cut a long story short, and after extensive consultation, the above points were endorsed by the accountancy profession. These proposals were also well received by the Basic Law drafters who subsequently amended their original draft to include (our) first point on elections by universal adult suffrage.

After intense public debate, the suggestion of a trigger point was modified by Basic Law drafters, to take the form a fixed timetable according to which the Election Committee and Functional Constituency seats would be gradually reduced, as well the inclusion of an overall review date in the year 2007. Once this was agreed upon, the HKSA supported the final version of the Basic Law.

In view of the election result, it may be argued that the 53 per cent turnout rate of voters has exceeded the trigger point, originally proposed by the HKSA. By implication, one could say that it is time to eliminate all Election Committee and Functional Constituency seats. Bearing in mind that this matter will be reviewed in 2007, the accountancy profession needs to take a clear stand on this issue sooner rather than later.

Furthermore, the return of Democrats to LegCo in significant numbers is sure to resurrect the debate on the pace of democracy. The high voter turnout will lend them strong arguments in favour of advancing the timetable for full-scale direct geographical elections by universal adult suffrage. Indeed, as a first salvo, a motion debate took place on 15 July 1998 to discuss this issue.

If the HKSA made the decision 10 years ago to implement the trigger point concept, I think that the accountancy profession should stand by that principle and accept the consequential implications. However, before doing so, I think it is important to point out the following circumstances which have changed since then, and which may affect accountants' views:

  1. Membership - HKSA numbers have risen from about 4,000 in 1988 to more than 14,000 now. Many new members did not play a part in the original decision.
  1. Basic Law - the HKSA eventually accepted the final version of the Basic Law based on the inclusion of a fixed timetable for gradual change. Many of us might have reservations about unstitching the Basic Law.
  1. Real Experience - in the past 10 years, the Accountancy Functional Constituency seat has proved to be a very useful and effective political link. If the trigger point stance is upheld, the accountancy profession will have to give up this privileged position. On the other hand, lawyers and doctors appear to be ready to give up their seats at any time.

As your Functional Accountancy LegCo representative, I feel it necessary to ask for your comments on this matter before taking a strong stance on behalf of the profession. As such, in order to take the matter further, I plan to:

  1. Consult Council - by raising the subject with the HKSA Council and taking into account its views on the best way to proceed with the consultation
  1. Consult Society members - by carrying out quantitative surveys for which I will seek independent professional advice on how to ensure fair, scientific and reliable survey results; and qualitative survey through focus group discussions with Society members.

It takes time, patience, careful planning and above all, your active participation to achieve a sound collective decision. To date, we have an appallingly low response rate to political surveys. This would render any surveys undertaken as an unreliable basis upon which to base such an important decision.

I hope you will again demonstrate your sense of responsibility, as you did in the recent election, by turning out in force to participate in this important decision-making process.

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