Flying start for SAR

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 February, 1996, 12:00am

FOR more than a decade, Hong Kong has been steadily winning the fight against corruption. Gone are the days when it was an unpleasant aspect of everyday existence. Now the territory boasts anti-graft laws, and anti-graft enforcement, which are the envy of most Asian nations.

The change of sovereignty can be expected to make it harder to maintain this impressive track record. Corruption on the mainland is far more prevalent and the number of cases recorded locally is already rising, almost in anticipation of the transition.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly stressed their commitment to fighting corruption and have said they understand the importance of keeping the territory graft-free. But today they have a chance to put such pledges into practice - when the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) delegation visiting Beijing presents a proposal for an independent body to monitor the workings of the Selection Committee.

This 400-strong committee is shortly to be formed by the Preparatory Committee. It will have the vital task of electing the first chief executive and the members of the provisional legislature.

The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, Nicholas Ng Wing-fui, has already confirmed the committee's workings will be beyond the scope of the territory's rigorous electoral anti-corruption laws. This is inevitable, given the unique constitutional circumstances associated with the transition. But it leaves an unfortunate gap, which the DAB's proposal seeks to fill. An electorate of only 400 is well within the scope of a determined vote-buyer. Regardless of whether anyone attempts to do this - and regardless of whether any on the committee would even consider a bribe - suspicions will be inevitable if there is no independent monitoring mechanism. These would unfairly tarnish the image of the chief executive and might damage the credibility of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government.

This is why the DAB's proposal is to the benefit of everyone involved. Their proposed five-member independent monitoring committee, of respected and well-known community figures, would do much to enhance public confidence in the process by which Hong Kong's future leader is chosen.

Its members should preferably be drawn from the judiciary or legal profession. They could use the existing electoral anti-corruption laws as a reference point in deciding what rules and guidelines to lay down.

Such an independent monitoring mechanism would get the SAR government off to a flying start by showing the new administration will strive to keep the territory graft-free. But failure to endorse the idea would send an unfortunate message to Hong Kong and the world. Beijing should have no hesitation about whole-heartedly embracing the DAB's proposal.