Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

Local NPC delegates take stock after first year

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 3:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 3:59am

A year after being elected to the National People's Congress, local deputy Brave Chan Yung has a short list of achievements.

The 44-year-old social worker said that while he was pleased that mainland authorities seemed to be paying attention to the development of social services there, he was dissatisfied with the paltry progress in ending a monopoly that has pushed up meat prices.

Chan said he was also dissatisfied that heavy air pollution persisted in the capital, despite his recommendations to cut emissions and improve public transport. He said he would follow up on these issues starting tomorrow, when he attended the national legislature's annual session in Beijing.

Chan's first-year experience highlights a dilemma that local deputies have faced for years. In theory, the representatives play an important role in national matters, as the NPC has the power to amend the constitution and oversee its enforcement, enact and amend laws, and determine key state issues. In reality, the deputies are perceived by some Hongkongers and academics as rubber stamps.

Debate about the deputies' role stems partly from the way they were elected.

The Hong Kong legislature is partly chosen through direct election. But that's not the case with the local NPC deputies. In 2012, they were elected by just 1,620 voters, mostly mainlanders who were on the Election Committee that picked Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in 2012.

Besides the tiny mandate, the deputies' public image is further diminished by intricate election rules that require each elector to choose 36 candidates, awarding seats to the top 36 vote-getters.

Because most who take part are perceived as conservative and pro-establishment, pan-democratic candidates have never won seats.

But Chan insisted that while some deputies might want to keep a low profile, he believed that the Hong Kong deputies had played an increasingly significant role in recent years. He said he would continue to try to resolve issues involving Hong Kong and mainland authorities in his national capacity.

Chan said he was dissatisfied that Hong Kong-listed Ng Fung Hong is the only agent authorised by the Ministry of Commerce to export live cattle from the mainland. Because of the monopoly, the company was allowed to raise the wholesale price of fresh beef six times in 2012. Local legislators want Beijing to open the market.

"There's some progress. For example, it's encouraging that at least the ministry has set up a working group with [Hong Kong's] Food and Health Bureau," Chan said. "They've been studying different reform options but the market is still not open, so I am not happy about it."

Chan wanted the group to speed up their work, and consider helping Hongkongers set up a cattle farm in Northern China. He believes that with more suppliers, competition could help lower the price of beef.

Last year, Chan, chairman of the Beijing-loyalist New Territories Association of Societies, an umbrella group of civic organisations, said he hoped to help local social workers find work across the border.

Another local deputy since last year, Dr David Wong Yau-kar, says that influencing the government in Beijing can be a long process.

Wong, a 56-year-old economist, sits on several advisory bodies of the local government, such as the commissions on poverty and economic development. He said he knew from his experience in public service that changing policy could take time.

"I don't dare boast about making any achievements, because there are more than 3,000 deputies [from all around the country] in the NPC," Wong said. "The authorities have been responsive to our proposals but it is difficult to change the central government's views and decisions in an instant."

A year ago, Wong said he hoped to use his new role to help the city better integrate with the mainland, and called for Hong Kong to develop its research and innovation sector by bringing in mainland talent.

Wong said that as a Hong Kong delegate, it was more important for him to advise Beijing on its economic and industrial policies, rather than debating "so-called mainland-Hong Kong conflicts".

"This year, I will make proposals for the financial system to better serve small and medium-sized enterprises and provide more resources for them develop their brands, and protect their intellectual property rights."

The proposals, if accepted, would benefit Hong Kong businesses and investments on the mainland, he added.