Former officials add their weight to the debate

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 July, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 July, 2003, 12:00am

Former officials weigh in

Some of Hong Kong's best-known former officials yesterday joined a chorus of calls for the government to defer enactment of the national security laws, citing the need for public consultation.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said in an interview with Bloomberg that the government needed to reconsider its approach to the legislation - due to be passed next Wednesday - in light of Tuesday's rally.

'It will be very good if the government can see its way clear to deferring the enactment of the law. There doesn't seem to be any real urgency to it,' she said. 'More time allowed for genuine consultation, for people to express their views and for the government to properly address their concerns, will be a very good thing.'

Mrs Chan, who retired in 2001, has previously suggested the government issue a white bill.

Speaking for the first time on Tuesday's mass demonstration, she said the event marked a watershed in Hong Kong's political development.

'July 1 has been a sobering lesson for the government. The message that people have sent is a very clear one. I hope the government will pay heed to it,' she said.

'The whole consultation exercise could have been much better handled, but it's not too late now to address the public's concerns. We are all waiting to see how the government will react.

'The strength of the sentiment expressed is definitely a turning point in Hong Kong politics. I hope that in light of this ... the government will seriously reconsider its entire approach on Article 23.'

Allen Lee Peng-fei, a former Exco member currently serving as a National People's Congress delegate, said deferring the enactment of the law should defuse the immediate political crisis.

He said he believed no decision had been taken because the central leadership needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the political fallout from Tuesday's rally.

'It's not just a question of whether the government backs down on the bill. The bigger question is how it is going to govern in the next four years. Beijing needs to seriously consider all these questions,' said Mr Lee.

Former broadcasting chief Cheung Man-yee said the government should defer enactment of the law for three to six months. This would give it time to sit down with representatives of political parties and build a consensus, she said.

'It will be a bitter victory if the government succeeds in getting the bill passed. It will lose the hearts of the people ... and it won't shut them up once enacted.

'The problem of the authority of government can only be solved by opening up the political system. The government should start a constitutional review in the next two years.'

Another former chief secretary, Sir David Akers-Jones, echoed calls for a deferral of the legislation for 'more time to consult and discuss with lawyers, academics and the public in general'.

He said the Article 23 legislation was clearly the focal point for dissatisfaction among people who took part in Tuesday's rally.

Former Exco member Rosanna Wong Yick-ming said the government should consider shelving or amending part of the bill for further discussion. 'There are different options, but I agree we need to enact the legislation as it is required under the Basic Law,' she said.

Yang Ti Liang, an Exco member in the first Tung administration, said he hoped the government would listen to the people.

'When I saw the number of people walking down the streets in Wan Chai, I was very moved. I don't think I have been so moved in all my years in Hong Kong,' he told the South China Morning Post.

'They were orderly, peaceful, rational and patient. They were people I can identify with and am proud of. They deserve our respect. We need to address their concerns seriously. It's extremely dangerous if we discard their opinions. Certainly, they were not misguided.

'It will do well for the administration to sit down and talk to them. A large percentage of the population feel they were ignored and their views belittled.'