Folly to tamper with a good thing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 1996, 12:00am

The Legislative Council last Wednesday approved by 38 votes to one the motion for a review of the present statutory and advisory bodies to make them supposedly more accountable, representative and transparent. I alone voted not so much against the motion but for the retention of executive appointments, for continuity, for stability.

I do not object to a review per se, which the Government is already doing in any case by picking new faces to these entities to reflect the different times and conditions. I would certainly have complied with the majority last Wednesday if the system were static, biased and lacking in accountability, popular representation and transparency.

The debate last week, however, only strengthened my conviction that hasty change should be avoided, since our system is neither deeply flawed nor broken. Indeed, as I heard the reasons cited on the need to overhaul executive appointments, I became more sure that the system we have is crucial to our success.

Some councillors suggested that Legco vet and approve these appointees and that more elected political figures be selected. I could imagine there and then what it might be like with these entities consumed by partisanship and confused about their real purpose and function which are comparable to those of consultants, not politicians. I feared that such members might be keener to offer advice perceived to be popular rather than practical.

Those proposals served up in Legco last week also sounded like an attempt to usurp the role and authority of the executive. The Government has always enjoyed the prerogative of appointing people to those committees, authorities, boards and commissions based on their track record, personal integrity, intelligence, special knowledge and other less tangible, but invaluable, qualities.

The administration also weighs its appointment on whether those chosen can reach crucial, often difficult, decisions requiring tact, compromise and consensus. There is no question that the system boils down to arbitrariness.

The Labour Advisory Board is, for one, a paradigm of sectoral interests being balanced with its membership comprising six representatives each from the ranks of the employees and employers and the Commission for Labour acting as a referee.

Twice in a year and a half the board arrived at sensible conclusions on bankruptcy, long-term and severance payments and twice it was vetoed in effect by Legco where no such balance exists.

If the legislature, current and future, were to have the final say over all executive appointments - and some councillors are on record as being in favour of themselves approving the promotion of senior officials - then over time our system would shift from the executive-led to the legislative-dominated and controlled.

These days ideology and ideals often eclipse common sense in our political dialogue. We in Hong Kong are often prompted to act according to a prescription laid down by the most eloquent activists whose admiration for Western concepts corresponds with their aversion to local conventions. Much of this rashness is prompted by some people's anxiety that reform and progress would cease from July 1 next year and so they had better hand a fait accompli to the Special Administrative Region Government.

Democracy may be the byword of these times. We have been told that all our institutions and our conduct must be seen through the prism of democracy.

To me, democracy is in the offing as spelt out in evolutionary terms in the Basic Law and we should not worry too much about it to the distraction of everything else.