It may date back to the colonial era, but the Motion of Thanks by members of the Legislative Council to the Chief Executive for his Policy Address is one of the few traditions the post-handover Government is happy to follow. It is no more than an expression of gratitude, but it symbolises the relationship between the executive authorities and the legislature. It is the duty, and within the power, of the executive branch to set out the policy direction and programmes in the speech. It has been viewed as the tradition, if not obligation, of the legislators to say thank you. And, until 1996, that is exactly what they did. Then, two years ago, unionist Lee Cheuk-yan took the opportunity to snub the departing governor Chris Patten for delaying full democracy for the territory. As in 1996, Wednesday's voting down of the Motion of Thanks, was neither a vote of no confidence in Tung Chee-hwa and his administration nor a wholesale disapproval of the policy programme. It reflected the depth of helplessness and frustration of the elected legislature with the way the Government has governed over the past year, and its lack of concrete measures to establish a 'constructive partnership with Legco' for the future. Leading the policy secretaries' reply, Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen dismissed suggestions the Policy Address was 'a routine matter year after year'. 'Nor is it some empty talk which leads us nowhere.' It is precisely because of the importance of the policy blueprint that legislators should not consider it a 'routine matter' to make their speeches and offer their thanks. Mr Tung and his senior aides may feel Wednesday's outcome was no big deal. As the Chief Executive and Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang said, the Government will go ahead with the policy programme set out in the address all the same. But elected representatives in Legco feel duty-bound to tell their constituents where they stand on the Policy Address. Mr Tung might not like it but the Motion of Thanks has become a major political event each year. A 'yes' to the thank-you motion is no longer a foregone conclusion. It will be an important indicator of how the community judges the administration's performance. During the two-day debate, legislators representing different constituencies mirror the feelings and aspirations of the community as a whole and the specific sectors they represent. As an opinion survey by a University of Hong Kong research centre released on Wednesday shows, there is a deep sense of uncertainty, as well as indifference, within the community. Compared with the survey conducted a few days after the publication of the Policy Address last month, there has been no noticeable increase in public confidence for the future. Views were divided over whether Legco members should say thank you or express their regrets to the Chief Executive. That the original motion and the three amendments were all rejected reflects mixed communal feelings. Again, like it or not, it is a fact of life that the community has become more vocal, or political in the eyes of people such as Mr Tung. And that is bound to continue. They will expect the same kind of courage and wisdom from their elected representatives when members next speak up on their behalf in the Legco chamber. Failing that, the public will feel increasingly helpless over what the Government and the legislature can do for them. Whatever the criticism of Legco members and the political parties they represent, they represent the main check on the work of the executive authorities. So, the way the administration deals with the legislature will be seen as mirroring its attitude towards public opinion. From this perspective, the signs are not promising. Policy secretaries may have kept the responses low-key in their two-day debate late last month, but officials have made no secret of their dismay over sharp criticism from legislators. Mr Tsang did not accept that finance and monetary officials were incapable of making the right decisions affecting the markets because they had no prior market experience. He argued that of the finance ministers in the top 12 economies including the Group of Seven, only two had direct market experience. 'I have raised this specific issue to illustrate my earlier point that we all need a greater sense of humility, self-criticism and collaborative spirit in the debate in this chamber in order to best serve our community at these critical times,' he concluded. Justice Secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie stirred controversy over her failure to attend a briefing to legislators on the Cheung Tze-keung case, although she managed to appear in the chamber later to deliver a statement and answer questions from the media. Understandably, members felt snubbed. She apologised yesterday. A storm in the teacup it may be, but it can be argued it reflects the political insensitivity of officials. On Wednesday, Mrs Chan spoke positively about the ties between the executive and the legislature. 'For my part, I feel only the constructive tension which is an inherent part of the relationship, and I view that positively,' she said. Without giving new initiatives, she reaffirmed their goal was to build a 'constructive partnership' with Legco. That is now needed much more than an expression of thanks.