Disputed school management bill hangs in balance
Linda Yeung and Katherine Forestier
The future of the government's efforts to pass the necessary legislation to implement school management reform hangs in the balance as legislators continue their scrutiny of the Education (Amendment) Bill 2002.
The bills committee has already met 23 times but the government is anxious the bill can be passed before the legislative year ends on July 7. It has not yet vetted half the clauses.
Committee members denied they were dragging their feet. Its chairwoman, Frontier legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan, said: 'It has taken a long time because of the numerous problems. Even this week members found that rather than letting schools have their way, the bill actually offered much power to the Permanent Secretary for Education.'
A spokeswoman for the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB) said that the power to intervene was no different than the EMB already had, and had only ever been used in times of crisis in a school.
Ms Ho added that it was vital to get the legislation right, rather than ensuring it was passed before the legislative year ended. 'Bad legislation would have serious consequences,' she said.
Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Frontier, also denied the Democratic camp was trying to delay the bill. 'Such claims are totally unfounded. We have been meeting for four hours each week to scrutinise the bill because it would have far-reaching effects. It was a badly-drafted piece of legislation. We demanded a lot of amendments and often EMB officials agreed to them.'
Given the controversy surrounding the bill, Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the education constituency, said the government could wait before enforcing the model on all schools.
'The current legislation gives schools a five-year grace period in setting up the committee,' he said. 'The government can let schools decide whether they want to set up the new model, and if it's proven by the end of five years that schools which have opted for it have experienced no problems, then the government can introduce an amendment forcing all schools to follow. There is supposed to be a review of the policy in three years.'
Cheng Man-yiu, Deputy Secretary for Education, admitted there was a chance that the bill might not meet the July deadline. 'I am not that confident. The situation is still very volatile,' he said.
'If the bill can't be passed this year I would be very sorry. All the work would be wasted.'
The government would need to 'start from scratch' after the Legco elections, he said. That could delay the full implementation until after 2010, at the end of a five-year transition period. That would be 20 years after the beginning of efforts to implement school-based management, which he said was a global trend and long overdue.
'If we don't get the bill passed stakeholders will feel disappointed. They will feel they cannot be trusted by their schools,' he said.