Ex-convicts penalised by poll rules

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 2004, 12:00am

Former prisoners can run for Legco sooner than for apartment committees

It is currently easier - in theory at least - for ex-convicts to stand for the post of chief executive or for a seat in Legco than to seek a place on the mutual aid committees of the buildings where they live.

Former convicts are disqualified from their residences' mutual aid committee elections for 10 years after their conviction, according to rules set by the Home Affairs Department. But according to the ordinances governing the elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council, ex-convicts need wait only five years before they can stand for election.

The irregularity in election rules governing the committees - which are similar to owners' corporations but without statutory powers - was highlighted to the South China Morning Post by a former prisoner who called himself Jim.

He said he was advised against running in a mutual aid committee election two years ago because of those rules. He served an 18-month jail term after a 1994 conviction for selling pirated CDs and accepting advantages.

Jim said a district officer, who helped establish his apartment building's mutual aid committee, asked him to withdraw 'voluntarily' from the election.

'The officer told me that it would be better if I voluntarily withdrew to avoid embarrassment,' he said. 'The officer said they had to play by the rules.'

The rules for mutual aid committee elections say a person can be disqualified 'if he or she has been convicted of any offence in Hong Kong' and 'such conviction has been made within the previous 10 years from the date of his or her election'.

But Jim said the rules were unreasonable, given that Legislative Council and chief executive candidates needed only five years to clear their records.

'Mutual aid committees are handling matters which are much less significant,' Jim said. 'I can't understand [how it could] take a longer period for me to clear my record. I just wanted to serve my neighbourhood.'

Legislator James To Kun-sun said there was a lack of 'logical consistency' in the election rules and ordinances. 'Although there might be a historical reason [for the difference], it does not make sense, and sounds awkward.

'The mutual aid committee is mainly responsible for promoting friendships among neighbours,' he said.

'Such extreme unreasonableness constitutes a prima facie case for a judicial review [of the election laws].'

Ng Wai-tung, spokesman for the Society for Community Organisation, said the government was running against the initiative to encourage community participation. 'We would table the case to the Legco's home affairs panel,' he said. 'We would also demand Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping amend the mutual aid committee election rules, which are currently not legally binding. Adjustments can be made after a public consultation.'

A Home Affairs Department spokeswoman noted that the rule was established a long time ago and the department had not heard any complaints. 'We welcome the public to discuss the issue again,' she said. 'Legco members and the chief executive are subject to media surveillance, but mutual aid committees are not.

'This is why we set a stricter rule. We would like to play safe.'