Populist stance on maids' abode betrays our values

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am


The controversy over foreign domestic helpers' right to permanent residency has unwittingly exposed the ugly underbelly of the mentality of many Hong Kong people and the true colours of politicians across the spectrum.

Lawmakers and politicians from the pro-establishment camp, as well as representatives from the Liberal Party and the New People's Party, have disregarded the rule of law and discriminated against the underprivileged by siding with populism. To gain voter support, they risk tearing apart our society. This is the behaviour of small-minded people. Hongkongers who genuinely support democracy and justice will not be fooled.

Their opposition, the pan-democrats, are no better. Some of them who claim to be the defenders of social justice, human rights and the rule of law have sold out their principles for political gain. By distancing themselves from the controversy instead of safeguarding the rights of foreign domestic helpers, their behaviour is hypocritical.

The most disappointing is the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be a leading light for democracy. Its silence surrounding the issue is deafening. By choosing not to stand for justice, it has effectively condoned injustice.

The Civic Party, meanwhile, is trying to skirt around the issue even though one of its founding members, senior counsel Gladys Li, is representing a foreign domestic helper in her judicial review hearing. Party members have tried to avoid comment, saying only that they believe everyone is equal before the law and deserves proper legal representation. They point out that lawyers have to safeguard this right, and cannot reject a case even in the face of public opposition.

Party chief Alan Leong Kah-kit pointed out that if the court ruled in favour of foreign helpers, the government could still use other executive measures to restrict a possible influx of the helpers and their family.

The Civic Party seems to respect the rule of law, but at the same time is siding with populism so as not to offend the majority.

I oppose seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to resolve the issue. It's a matter of principle. Interpreting the Basic Law is not merely a legal move; it equates to political interference.

The New People's Party's request for a Basic Law interpretation is self-destructive and will bring long-term damage to the city's high degree of autonomy. Similar suggestions by the former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie and former Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai are also self-defeating.

Their comments would only put pressure on the independence of the city's judicial system, opening the door for the Standing Committee to overturn a court ruling if the central government is not happy. If that happens, we risk a repeat of the abode controversy a decade ago when the Hong Kong government sought an interpretation of the Basic Law because it feared an influx of mainland children born to local residents. If we repeated this mistake, it would bring unimaginable consequences to the city's autonomy and judicial independence.

I also support granting foreign helpers the right of abode. We should treat all foreign workers the same, as long as they meet the eligibility rules.

This group of foreign workers has contributed to the city's economic success over the years. Without them taking up domestic duties, many women wouldn't have had the chance to work, especially those with children. A great number of career women have benefited, including some of those who are now against granting overseas helpers permanent residency.

Both pro-establishment politicians and pan-democrats have been a huge letdown. They have been evasive, contradictory and hypocritical, with no respect for freedom, justice, human rights and the rule of law. How, then, can we entrust them with our future?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk