Public interest comes first for lawmakers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 8:46am

The Legislative Council election is just over a week away, and my 10 years' service as a lawmaker is almost over. It was a historic time, covering crises like the economic downturn and severe acute respiratory syndrome. People's expectations of government became much higher, and there were definitely times when senior officials and legislators did not meet those expectations.

Many people only notice Legco when it holds debates as a full council on Wednesdays. But there is a lot going on the rest of the time. Bills committees, for example, pore over proposed laws - maybe line by line - listening to submissions from the public and interrogating government officials and civil servants on the wording and meaning of the proposed legislation. It is important work that affects every person and organisation in Hong Kong. It is also very time consuming.

This leads to a big lesson I have learned from my time in Legco: being a legislator is pretty much a full-time job. There is no way you can fulfil all your Legco responsibilities and work in some other profession and have a decent home life at the same time. The need to devote more time to my family and business played a big role in my decision not to run again.

For the same reason, I believe legislators need more resources to help them do a professional job, especially funds to hire quality assistants to help with things like research. This is important for independents, who can't pool resources with other party members, and for representatives of geographical constituencies, who also staff neighbourhood offices.

When I entered Legco as the representative for the insurance functional constituency, I expected to focus mainly on affairs that concerned my own industry. But I soon found myself involved in all sorts of issues, like organ donation, smoking in the work place and food labelling. After 10 years in Legco, it seems that the functional constituency system is increasingly a problem. It has brought people with specialised experience into the council, which has been a good thing. But, in some cases (in both the pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps), functional constituencies put their own sectors' interests ahead of those of the community as a whole.

At some stage the functional constituencies will go but, as long as they exist, it is important that their representatives accept that community interests must come first. It is fairly easy for me to say this - the insurance industry has never been in a position to want or expect favours from the government. But people are becoming more sensitive about anything that looks like collusion or abuse of influence, and who can blame them?

One other key lesson I take away from Legco is how vital our high-quality civil service is to Hong Kong. I hope members of the next Legco will recognise this and not be too extreme when criticising civil servants if something goes wrong. That will just discourage them from trying hard and innovating, which is the last thing we need.

If I have left my mark on Legco in any way, it is on every piece of council stationery. As the only council member with a degree in studio art, I was given the job of finding a new logo for the legislature. It was an ideal introduction to the difficulties of getting members to agree on anything. There were 60 different opinions on how modern, how Chinese and how grand the symbol should be. I eventually got everyone to agree on the logo we have today: the Chinese character , short for the verb 'to make law', incorporating the letter 'L'.

It was a privilege to sit in Legco for 10 years. On Sunday September 7, I will vote as an outsider who knows from experience that the council does important work. That is why I am urging everyone I know to be sure to vote for the candidates they believe will do the best job.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council and a legislator representing the insurance functional constituency