Flexibility called for on expats

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 1997, 12:00am

It would be too restrictive to bar expatriates from deputising for senior officials when they were absent from office, Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu said yesterday.

Ms Tam was referring to a controversy which emerged when Law Officer (civil law) Ian Wingfield deputised for Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-see who was absent for five days for an official visit to Inner Mongolia.

The Basic Law says policy secretaries must be Chinese nationals with no right of abode overseas and there had been suggestions that this prevented Mr Wingfield acting as Secretary for Justice.

But Ms Tam said this did not apply in cases such as where the policy secretary was absent through sickness or on official leave.

'In those circumstances, it would seem to be too restrictive to require that whoever deputises must be a Chinese national,' she said.

Ms Tam, a former Basic Law drafter, said if those deputising were eventually expected to take up the post, it would be better if they were Chinese nationals.

She said the Basic Law Committee made no such provision. It would be up to the SAR Government to decide. 'We leave it to the SAR which is given a high degree of autonomy.

'It's a matter for the Hong Kong Government to decide how to handle these different situations,' she said.