Donald Tsang

Vote threat over Legal Aid move

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am

Pan-democrats took the opportunity of a lunch with the chief executive yesterday to tell him to his face: don't put the Legal Aid Department under the Home Affairs Bureau or you risk opposition to your reorganisation of government.

The pan-democratic camp will publicly demand an explanation next week for the switch, which has been criticised as a threat to the independence of the department and, therefore, to the rule of law.

The Democratic Party, Civic Party and The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing have confirmed they will vote against the shuffling of policy portfolios unless legal aid remains the responsibility of the administrative branch.

Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, said he would discuss the matter with fellow party members today before announcing their position.

The democratic camp, with 25 votes, will not be able to block the proposal, set for a vote on June 13, but could still make a scene over the formation of a new government on the 10th anniversary of the handover.

Human Rights Monitor and the Bar Association also oppose the move. Law Yuk-kai, of Human Rights Monitor, cited the potential for conflicts of interest, the loss of protection from political interference and the undermining of public faith in the Legal Aid Department's independence.

When ministers had lunch with lawmakers in the Legislative Council dining room yesterday, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen seemed to seek out Democratic Party members and was locked in discussion with the party's vice-chairman, Sin Chung-kai, and Cheung Man-kwong. Mr Tsang sat next to Mr Sin during the meal.

Fellow Democrat Lee Wing-tat also spent some time speaking to John Tsang Chun-wah, director of the Chief Executive's Office.

'I told John Tsang, don't, for the sake of such a small thing, make us vote against the reorganisation. It's absolutely unnecessary,' he said.

The legislator said responsibility for the Legal Aid Department need not be shifted at the same time as the government was reorganised.

He said the government should drop the plan for now to allow the Democrats to vote in favour of the reorganisation, which will see the creation of a bureau to co-ordinate planning, development and heritage conservation, and changes to bureau responsibilities, including shifting the labour portfolio to join welfare.

'They should propose [moving the Legal Aid Department] in September or October, and we can fight about it then without involving the reorganisation plan,' Mr Lee said.