Review to study Legco allowances

FORMER Executive Councillor Professor Wang Gungwu was appointed yesterday to head an independent commission to determine whether the existing $73,000 monthly allowance enjoyed by legislators is justified.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Hongkong will head a five-member commission to recommend to Governor Chris Patten a remuneration system ''that would enable Legco members to discharge their functions efficiently''.

The other four members are former legislators Cheng Hon-kwan and Andrew So Kwok-wing, industrialist and Governor's Business Council member Christopher Cheng Wai-chee, and management consultant Thomas Leung Kwok-fai.

Legislators might have their allowances cut if the present level is found to be too high by Professor Wang's commission.

Professor Wang refused to say yesterday if he considered the present allowance appropriate.

''This is exactly what I am going to find out,'' he said. ''We'll look at it very carefully.'' He said the commission would look at the basis the Government used to arrive at the present calculation.

''We will compare the principles of the present system with legislatures in other parts of the world,'' he added.

Professor Wang said the commission would not meet until September.

Meanwhile, he said, they would start collecting all the relevant information for analysis.

He did not give himself a deadline for the review, but pledged to finish the study as soon as possible.

When asked if the commission could be out of touch regarding legislators' work, Professor Wang said: ''This is why we have two former legislators in this commission.'' In May, legislators gave themselves an increase of 123 per cent in their allowances, taking them from $32,700 to $73,000 a month.

The move has been criticised by outsiders as a way for legislators to gain an unfair edge over new candidates in elections.

The two major parties, the United Democrats of Hongkong and the Liberal Party, agreed at that time to the Government's recommendation to set up an independent commission to look at the matter.

United Democrat vice-chairman Yeung Sum welcomed the appointment.

''Professor Wang was an Executive Councillor in the past. He should know the operation of the Legislative Council,'' he said.

Mr Yeung said the commission could earn the public's trust as it was seen to be more objective that legislators themselves.

Mr Yeung urged Professor Wang and other commission members to conduct field work to understand the actual work of legislators before they came up with their conclusion.

He hoped the commission's recommendation would be announced well before legislators had to approve their allowances again next year.

Liberal Party legislator Henry Tang Ying-yen urged that recommendations be ready before the Legislative Council began its new session in October.

Mr Tang agreed with Professor Wang that the commission would not be out of touch from the daily work of legislators.