Council Claims Are Unfounded

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 September, 1997, 12:00am

I refer to Fanny Wong's article 'Business as usual but no enthusiasm' (Sunday Morning Post, August 31) which focused on the performance of the Provisional Legislative Council (PLC) as a check on the executive.

Wong stated 'the question quota has not been fully taken up', 'those who did ask questions were mostly members who had served on the previous legislature' and that 'new members seem still too shy or too inactive to query the administration'.

As Wong is aware, asking questions at council meetings is not the only means by which members monitor and query the work of the administration.

The other means are: moving motions for debate at council meetings, scrutinising legislative proposals and discussing various issues at meetings of the council's committees.

In the case of questions, out of a total of 79 questions asked at the five council meetings held between July 16 and September 3, 37 were asked by new members. Out of the 26 oral questions asked, 16 were raised by new members.

As regards the point that the question quota was not being fully taken up, let me point out that even in the days of the former Legislative Council, the number of questions asked at some sittings fell below the maximum number of questions permitted at a council meeting, that is, six oral and 14 written.

As members of the PLC were only requested to submit questions for council meetings in late June, it is not unusual that the quota for the first few meetings was not fully taken up.

In any case, 11 questions were asked at the meeting on July 16, the first meeting with a segment for questions, and 18 at the meeting on July 23.

Concerning the quality of the questions, Wong quoted as examples the questions on the torrential rains and landslip incidents at the meeting on July 23.

For readers' information, the questions, albeit relating to the same subject, in fact focused on different aspects of the subject, including public transport, road closure and slope maintenance. This reflects that members had a full grasp of the subject and dealt with it from different angles.

As regards committee work, new members have taken an active part. Many of them are serving as chairmen or deputy chairmen of panels, bills committees and other committees of the council.

Wong suggested the Chief Executive had chosen not to attend meetings of the council to answer members' questions on the work of the Government, and that members had not protested against his decision. This is not the case.

During the drafting stage of the rules of procedure, the Working Group on Rules of Procedure took up with the Chief Executive's Office the timing and format of the question time.

Members were advised that as the first policy address of the Chief Executive would be delivered in October, it would be more appropriate for the arrangements to be decided then.

The Working Group, which comprised members from different political affiliations and groupings, accepted that there were merits to direct questions to the Chief Executive after he had a chance to go over the policies of the Hong Kong SAR with his principal officials after the handover. There has been continued communication on the subject between the Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat and the Director of Administration.

On the work of the Finance Committee, meetings of the committee are held to scrutinise financial proposals from the administration. It has been the practice, even in the days of the former Legislative Council, that meetings are scheduled each Friday afternoon to facilitate the administration to put forward its proposals.

It is not uncommon that meetings scheduled in the earlier months of the legislative session are cancelled due to the lack of proposals ready for presentation.

The trend of cancelling meetings at the beginning of a session due to the lack of proposals ready for scrutiny is a common phenomenon and is outside the control of the legislature.

Nevertheless, the Finance Committee of the PLC has reminded the administration to speed up the submission of financial proposals, as the council may cease to hold meetings by April next year when the candidature for the elections of the SAR's first Legislative Council has been announced.

Therefore, although the Finance Committee has only met once since July 1 (through no fault of the PLC), it is unfair to pass a sweeping statement at this stage that 'the members' ready acceptance of the Government's explanation suggests they are no less supine than the officials'.

The PLC welcomes comments from the public on the work of the council. It has always been open in explaining its work and has placed a lot of emphasis on the transparency of the way it conducts its business.

RICKY C C FUNG Secretary-General, Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat