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Selection Committee : Learning from Experience


By the time you read this article, the first Selection Committee should have already accomplished its historic tasks of choosing the territory's first Chief Executive and members of the Provisional Legislature. Many accountants have asked me to give them an `insider' view. After having spoken to many fellow accountants in private, it is perhaps a good time for me openly to give a systematic and concise analysis of the issue.

I shall begin with some known criticisms, as it is from this perspective that we can learn valuable lessons. The Selection Committee has been criticised as being `tightly-controlled by Beijing; a game for a small circle of privileged people and unjustly dominated by pro-china business-men'. Rather, to take things at face value, accountants should ask themselves the following pertinent questions. How valid are these criticisms? What are the long-term implications?

The return of Hong Kong to the mainland is a very important historic event to China. This high profile issue is taking place against the background of a difficult Sino-British relationship and consolidation of the political powers of the leadership in China. It was inevitable that the Chinese officials in charge of handling this issue would err on the side of caution rather than taking chances. They also had the unenviable task of having to hold the selections in Hong Kong by remote control, without a proper legal framework and process to ensure a credible election that is so vital for the HKSAR government.

Despite these severe constraints, it was decided that the candidacy of the Selection Committee should be entirely open to all. There was absolutely no political control. This very important decision has laid down a sound basis for the future. I believe that as we evolve, more and more people from different political back-grounds will choose to join the Selection Committee. Because Hong Kong will no longer be under British rule after 1997, China will feel even more relaxed towards the possibility of the selection process being undermined by hostile elements. In the next election, those who decided not to join the Selection Committee solely because of their views on the establishment of the `one-off' Provisional Legislature, will also lose their excuse for not joining.

It cannot be denied that the 400-member Selection Committee is a small group of elite to be tasked with making such important decisions for Hong Kong. However, many commentators have already pointed out that members of the Selection Committee were elected by the Preparatory Committee from a broad range of backgrounds. As such, they represented a miniature community reflecting the full diversity of views in Hong Kong.

This simple mechanism enables us to achieve the transfer of power through peaceful means, without any use of force or political coercion. The whole process of inviting nominations and voting in public by the Preparatory Committee was totally transparent. There was absolutely no evidence of any abuse of power or underhand methods. It has provided a good basis for a credible selection procedure to be further developed in future.

Looking ahead, the Selection Committee will no elect the whole Legislative Council of the HKSAR in 1998. I believe the first Legislature will again be formed by a combination of seats elected by universal suffrage and functional constituencies. The use of the Selection Committee to elect the Chief Executive, an important step forward in itself from the appointment method used by the British up to 1997, will take another evolutionary step in the year 2007.

As proposed by the HKSA, art 45 of the Basic Law states that `The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage...'. We are therefore committed to review the present system in the context of a wider political franchise.

The noticeable imbalance of the present Selection Committee in favour of pro-China political groups and the business sector has even surprised many Preparatory Committee members. After the dust settled, it was not difficult to see why. With over one-third of the Preparatory Committee members being mainland members, they would naturally prefer candidates who hold titles that are familiar to them, such as Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress, Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, fellow Preparatory Committee members, Hong Kong Affairs Advisers and current Legislative Councilors.

The special preference of this significant group of voters would naturally skew the final selection result.

Although we have still to find a way to form the Selection Committee for future elections, the process is unlikely to involve mainland members again. This factor, which may lead to a natural bias, will be removed and it will be entirely up to the people of Hong Kong to pick the right members to represent them on these important Committees.

There were many unfair allegations of corruption and political manipulation by commentators from some quarters. None was backed up by even a shred of evidence. In reality, political influence in a sophisticated place like Hong Kong works in a much more subtle and civilised way. I will readily confirm that extensive informal consultation, as envisaged by the Basic Law, did take place and that it occurred in a way similar to normal political lobbying practiced in all democratic systems.

The Selection Committee was formed by a clean and transparent process. All those involved exercised their own independent free will to nominate, to vote and to be selected. There was no trace of violence or political coercion. It is a sound starting point to build our confidence, as well as that of China's, before we take the next bold step towards greater autonomy and a higher degree of democracy in the formation of the first HKSAR Legislature in 1998.


Eric Li
Accountancy Functional
Constituency Representative
LegCo

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