Analysis of Article 23 consultations 'flawed'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 12:00am

Academics claim the submissions were mishandled

The controversy over the Article 23 legislation took a new twist yesterday after academics released a study backing claims that the government had mishandled public submissions during last year's consultations.

A group of top academics analysed the 97,000 submissions and concluded that the views were sharply divided - contrary to the government's claim of overwhelming support for its position but similar to claims made by opponents of the legislation.

Releasing the 68-page report, associate professor Chan Kin-man, of Chinese University, criticised the government for not analysing the views properly.

'The government apparently wanted the consultation to conclude there is one-sided support for enacting legislation,'' he said.

The report by the academics, entitled 'Doing justice to public opinion in public consultations: What to do and what not to do', was funded by the Article 23 Concern Group. But the academics said their research was independent.

The Security Bureau had claimed majority support for the proposed Article 23 legislations, based on the submissions - including standard letters - from organisations and individuals.

There were also about 340,000 signatures from the public, most of which were opposed to the law. But the government said these were not as important as the submissions.

Professor Chan said the government had failed to note that some people supported legislation in principle but did not endorse the details in the proposal.

Of the submissions that agreed in principle with the Article 23 legislation, about 9 per cent were opposed to or uncertain about the contents, according to the group.

'It is true to say that the majority support enacting legislation in principle. But when taking into account the detailed views in the submissions, public opinion is indeed very divided,' Professor Chan said.

Co-researcher Jennifer Chan So-kuen, of the University of Hong Kong's department of statistics and actuarial science, said some of those previously classified by the government as uncertain were opposed to the proposals.

Of the 1,068 so-called uncertain cases, 74.5 per cent were opposed to the content, the group said. Only 16 per cent were uncertain while 9.4 per cent backed the proposals.

She criticised the government for not respecting the thousands of signatures opposing the law.

Professor Chan Kin-man criticised the government for not adequately explaining to the people how the views would be analysed.

'People expressed their views with sincerity but they had been buried in the government analysis. Public opinion is not something to play with,' he said.

But the Security Bureau yesterday stressed it attached equal importance to all views received.

'No matter whether the submissions are for or against the legislation, their views have been fully considered during the course of drafting the legislation,' a spokeswoman for the bureau said.