Lawmakers lax on scrutinising legislation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 6:49am


The Leung administration has had to weather quite a few political storms for which it has mostly itself to blame. But in a few cases, the legislative branch should also share responsibility, yet has largely escaped censure for its inattention and unreliability.

Take, for example, the furore over a government bid to amend the companies law to obscure the personal data of directors and bosses. The privacy commissioner has voiced support. Lawmakers who should have done a better job scrutinising the amendment approved it quickly through the legislature. It was left to journalists and their representative bodies to point out the potential danger it poses to helping to hide corrupt corporate activities. Thanks to their vigilance, the government has been forced to put it on hold.

What is wrong with the amendment? The proposed change to the Companies Ordinance would make the home addresses and full identity card numbers of company directors inaccessible through the Companies Registry. The government and the privacy commissioner argue that it would enhance company directors' privacy. Journalists say it would make it difficult if not impossible to investigate corporate malfeasance. The amendment may protect directors but not the public interest.

Why did no lawmakers raise the alarm when the amendment was going through the legislative process? We can't expect much from those from the rotten boroughs of functional constituencies who tend to rubberstamp most bills the government sends their way. Nor can we expect the so-called radicals to stop their theatrics and actually do their homework. But the more moderate pan-democrats - more than a few of whom are lawyers - are the gatekeepers of good legislation and have a duty to question dodgy proposals before they become law. Yet, no one raised the alarm on the companies amendment.

This is not the first time. The current administration's biggest challenge so far has been the row over national education. The now-shelved programme required consultation with legislators over several years. Yet lawmakers let it through. The pan-democrats then claimed innocence and capitalised on it to discredit the government.

It's good they play the opposition. It would be even better if they did their homework properly.