Case of flexibility

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 1997, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Government and the British side on the Joint Liaison Group have always clearly stated that they regard the provisional legislature as unjustified and unnecessary, and therefore refuse to co-operate with it.

Given this position, they have gone as far as it is possible for them to go on the right of abode issue in approaching an appointed body which has no electoral mandate from the people. To have offered a White Bill which could act as a consultation paper during the next two months, followed by a Blue Bill which the Special Administrative Region (SAR) can handle on July 1, appears a perfectly acceptable, even generous, compromise.

It is difficult to see any reason for China's rejection of the proposal except for an apparent determination to force the Government and Britain to concede legality to the provisional body if they want any progress on right of abode. But China and the future administration of the SAR know this will not be done, so the result is an impasse which can only be to the disadvantage of the people of the territory.

The future Secretary of Justice admits there are risks if the provisional legislature attempts to draft this piece of legislation. The lack of legal expertise has already been evident in the contradictions and misconceptions contained in the Societies and Public Order ordinances amendments. In those cases, there is at least the opportunity for such questions to be raised in the public consultation period, short as it is.

The prospect of the right of abode law being drafted in haste, without the guidance of expert lawyers and without a period set aside for consultation, is obviously to be deplored. The admission by Elsie Leung Oi-sie that such a document could be full of loopholes and that the people of Hong Kong may suffer should make provisional legislators think very carefully before they proceed with actions which may harm their fellow citizens.

A White Bill is a consultation paper which the Shenzhen body can discuss and amend, if necessary, when it evolves into a Blue Bill after July 1. It would be drafted by experts and so should be legally sound. If the interests of Hong Kong people are the real issue, as they should be, it is time to think again and for the compromise to be accepted in a flexible spirit.