PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am

Few will disagree that something has to be done to reverse our budget deficit, but treading on the poor and the unrepresented is not the answer. The government, no doubt on good advice, chose to impose an indirect tax on foreign maids by using its executive power under section 14 of the Employees Retraining Ordinance, thereby avoiding a debate in the Legislative Council.

What the government cannot avoid, however, is a likely infringement of basic human rights and the rule of law.

The government has time and again said it fully respected the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) enshrined in Article 39 of our Basic Law. Article 26 of the ICCPR states: 'All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground' such as race, colour, sex, national or social origin or other status.

In the case Gueye versus France, France in 1974 passed legislation introducing differential treatment of Senegalese soldiers, as compared to French citizens, with respect to their military pensions, which resulted in their level being frozen. These soldiers of Senegalese nationality had served in the French army before the independence of Senegal in 1960. The Human Rights Committee found no evidence of racial discrimination but held that differentiation by reference to nationality acquired upon independence fell within the scope of 'other status' in Article 26 and constituted discrimination.

An indirect tax on foreign maids only represents tax differentiation treatment, as compared to other workers, with reference to their race, colour, sex, national or social origin or other status in our society.

In this respect, the government is not only abdicating its responsibility to safeguard equal treatment of all under Article 26 but committing a discriminatory act.

Perhaps it should carefully reconsider whether such a tax is vital to the rescue of our economy, or proper respect to human rights and the rule of law is more important.