Legco: love it, hate it

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 July, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 1994, 12:00am

IN an end-of-session briefing yesterday, Legislative Council House Committee Chairman Elsie Tu gave a mainly factual and statistical appraisal of the past year's performance. But a serious appraisal of Legco's work can be made only in context.

Hong Kong is now three years into its tentative experiment with an elected legislature and one year ahead of a far more adventurous democratic experiment. China is hostile, the business community is distrustful and the Governor treats councillors as either enemies or allies, depending on his assessment of his interests. Having built them up and forced them to take responsibility for their actions on constitutional affairs, he and his government have waged a struggle to limit their effectiveness elsewhere. Such, inevitably, is the uneasy relationship between the executive-led government and the more populist council.

In such circumstances, it is remarkable how many legislators have shown themselves a force with which to be reckoned, either individually or through their parties. Despite its size, composition and limited experience and powers, Legco loses nothing in comparison with many more-seasoned, democratic parliaments elsewhere.

Equally, Mr Patten cannot be blamed for the love-hate relationship he has developed with Legco. It is in the nature of unelected executive government to be frustrated with the mechanisms introduced to make it accountable. Government, however, would find Legco easier to deal with if it stopped treating it as a decision-making bottleneck and regarded greater scrutiny as a worthwhile price of democracy. In particular, if the Government were prepared to devote greater resources to dealing with Legco inquiries and demands, instead of complaining that it had increased its workload, much could be achieved.

The Governor should look, once again, at ways to increase communication and co-operation between Legco and the Executive Council, including bringing elected legislators onto his advisory body. There would be less call for government to try to curb Legco's enthusiasm (particularly by limiting private members bills) if the two sides could consult more and compete less.