'Constitutional duty' to enact Article 23 law
Hong Kong people 'owe the central government a constitutional responsibility' to enact the national security legislation, outgoing secretary for security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said yesterday.
He refused to say whether he thought the law, required under Article 23 of the Basic Law, should be passed during the term of incoming chief executive Leung Chun-ying.
But Lee (pictured) said there should be a White Bill - a detailed draft of the proposed law - to allow the community to be consulted before it was introduced.
'Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong has a constitutional duty to enact a law to protect national security. It's a pity that after 15 years, we still have not finished the job,' he said.
In a media tea gathering at the immigration officers' mess, Lee, 63, a former director of immigration, said he understood that some Hong Kong people feared Article 23, so there was a need to explain clearly that the enactment would not take away any of their freedom and rights.
'I do not think the Security Bureau will turn into a piece of political machinery if its future chief pushes for Article 23,' he said. 'As I have said many times, the legislation is the responsibility of all Hong Kong people.'
The legislation was withdrawn in 2003 after 500,000 people joined the annual July 1 march in protest. Lee's predecessor, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, later handed in her resignation.
Ip, now a lawmaker for her New People's Party, agreed with Lee, saying that the appropriate timing was up to the government of the day.
'I fully understand people's sensitivity and concern about this issue. And of course the government has to consult the community fully,' she said.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, chairman of Legco's security panel, said Article 23 should not be legislated until Hongkongers enjoyed universal suffrage when the chance of intrusion on human rights would be lower.
He also gave a 'bare pass' for Lee's performance, saying that although the crime rate had been low during his nine-year tenure, freedom of speech was constricted as police used a heavy-handed approach against protesters.
The Office of the Chief Executive-elect said the security law was not a priority for Leung.
Lee joined the civil service as an immigration officer in 1974. From 1998 to 2002, he led the immigration department as its director. Of his 381/2 years' service in the government, he spent 28 with the department.
In July 2002, he was appointed as the head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In August a year later, he took over from Ip as security chief.
Undersecretary for security Lai Tung-kwok, who joined the Immigration Department around the same time as Lee, is widely tipped to be promoted to lead it on July 1. Lee said his successor would be announced soon and he would be happy if it was Lai, who he described as both honorable and knowledgeable.
He also said he did not know if deputy police commissioner John Lee Ka-chiu would take over Lai's current position as rumoured.
Lee plans a long holiday overseas after his retirement on June 30.