Basic values

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2011, 12:00am


The controversy surrounding whether foreign domestic helpers should have the right to permanent residency is spinning out of control. Thus, Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung was right to try to put a stop to the hullabaloo by appealing to the public this week to respect the court's adjudication and not comment further to avoid interfering with judicial independence.

Unfortunately, Pandora's box has already been opened. People from different sectors of the community, especially the middle class, are split over the issue. Some have even branded foreign domestic helpers as locusts, treating them like lower-class citizens. These are vile and despicable remarks.

The economic turbulence triggered by the two financial crises since the 1997 handover has created a new breed of middle-class Hongkongers. They are mostly directionless and constantly try to find a scapegoat against whom they can vent their discontent on every issue. Unfortunately, the underprivileged have become their common target.

Every free and open society appreciates the importance of the rule of law, and Hong Kong is no exception. Under the policy of 'one country, two systems', we advocate the principles of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong'. Thus, upholding the rule of law is part of these arrangements. This is what makes Hong Kong different from the mainland.

The principle of 'one country, two systems' is the underlying policy of the Basic Law. The ultimate power of interpretation is vested in the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The Basic Law also guarantees that the power of final adjudication is kept in Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal unless the ruling contradicts the Basic Law.

The top court's role has replaced that of the Privy Council in London. In the colonial days, the Privy Council rarely overturned decisions of Hong Kong's high court.

A lot of people believe the NPC Standing Committee is equivalent to the Privy Council in having the power to overturn court decisions. That's wrong. The defenders of our rule of law are against the Standing Committee interpreting the Basic Law because doing so implies that the decisions of the Court of Final Appeal stand to be corrected. It's a fact that the NPC has the power of interpretation. But, it shouldn't be used as a tool to change court rulings that are perceived to be politically incorrect.

If there are grey areas in the Basic Law, the focus should not be on the rulings of the top court, but on clarifying those grey areas. So the proper way forward is to amend the Basic Law and plug the loopholes instead of seeking interpretations.

We should treat all foreign workers and residents fairly and equally. At present, Hong Kong has different work visas for different types of foreign workers and only those who are not domestic helpers may apply for right of abode after meeting residency requirements.

Finally, if pan-democrats genuinely believe in democracy, they have to understand that it's not just about 'one man, one vote'; it's more about embracing fairness and justice, as well as giving a voice to the voiceless.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.