ALTHOUGH the Basic Law will not take effect until Hong Kong becomes a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China in 1997, some politicians are already gearing up to revise the mini-constitution. The Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood pledged to improve some of the Basic Law provisions soon after the 160-article document was promulgated by the National People's Congress in April 1990. Frederick Fung Kin-kee used to be the Association's lone voice in the Legislative Council. After the elections last month, however, the group's presence has strengthened to four votes. It should now be in a much better position to attract media attention should it decide to push ahead with its campaign for reform. But even before the Association has translated its schemes into action, other councillors have already taken the first steps towards putting the issue on the political agenda. Legislative Councillor Lee Cheuk-yan of the Confederation of Trade Unions, for instance, has already found a way of raising the sensitive topic in the new-look legislature. He is poised to use a forthcoming Legco debate on how to contain the proliferation of private members' bills to fire the opening salvo. The debate, sponsored by David Chu Yu-lin of the Liberal Democratic Federation, is meant to discuss ways of curbing legislators' powers to table their own draft bills. A Hong Kong affairs adviser for the Chinese authorities, Mr Chu also doubles as a member of the Preliminary Working Committee for the SAR. China has been harping on the theme that Legco's powers should be curbed, lest the effectiveness of the administration be harmed. Local concerns have also been raised, echoing China's position that private members' legislative initiatives would undermine Hong Kong's well-established executive-led government system and bog down the government's legislative timetable. Mr Lee, however, is trying to steal the debate by putting forward an amendment in exactly the opposite direction. Under Legco's Standing Orders, councillors are barred from moving any private members' bills which incur public expenditure. The Basic Law is even more stringent. Article 74 stipulates that: 'Bills which do not relate to public expenditure or political structure or the operation of the Government may be introduced individually or jointly by members of the Council. The written consent of the Chief Executive shall be required before bills relating to government are introduced.' This clause will make it almost impossible for individual councillors to use legislative means to challenge the administration. The 'no entry zone' for post-1997 legislators will be expanded to cover electoral arrangements and practically all other areas of policy. Hong Kong officials have reportedly been looking into the possibility of copying the Basic Law provision into the current Letters Patent and Royal Instructions so the Government has a trump card in tackling an increasingly assertive and hostile Legco during the transition period. The proposal has, of course, met with strong objections from the democratic camp. Mr Lee, who represents the new manufacturing functional constituency, has vowed to move an amendment to urge the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) to delete the restrictions in Article 74. Mr Lee is not alone in his opposition to the Basic Law's curbs on legislators' powers. Legislative Councillor Christine Loh Kung-wai has suggested the same idea for reform in her booklet on how the Basic Law should be rewritten. It is one of the 15 major proposals listed in her recent publication Hong Kong: A High Degree of Autonomy and the Basic Law. Among other suggestions, Ms Loh argued that: 'China should clarify to Hong Kong as soon as possible that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will not be a power centre in the SAR and will not direct the SAR in any way. 'Any representation of the CCP in the SAR after 1997 should operate openly so as to increase confidence that the CCP would not be a power centre there.' She sponsored a motion debate on the matter in the last Legco session and became a target for the Chinese propaganda machine. Ms Loh sent a copy of her new work to the Chinese Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, while he was on an official visit to London. Her move was criticised by fellow legislator, Mr Chu, in his column in the South China Morning Post as 'undemocratic'. 'She has not, as far as I can tell, consulted the people on the changes she has proposed,' wrote Mr Chu. Ms Loh's rebuttal was published in this paper's letters column this week. A war of words seems to be brewing between the two legislators. However, when Ms Loh launched her blueprint on how to revise the Basic Law, she failed to attract much media interest in the issue. Most Chinese-language dailies only gave scant coverage to the story. Beijing has made it clear that it will not tamper with the Basic Law before it is even implemented. Some circles in the local pro-China lobby have argued that if Hong Kong can ask to amend the mini-constitution, so can the Chinese authorities. They warned it would therefore be far better for Hong Kong to leave the document as it stands. The media and the public in general do not seem to take the campaign to change the Basic Law seriously because of the reality that only the NPC is vested with the authority to amend the text. The debate on whether and how the Basic Law should be revised, however, is likely to survive as the subject of protracted debate in the new legislature. It will remain a bone of contention that may haunt not only the present Legco, but the legislative body in place beyond 1997.