If ever there was a person entitled to see himself in a unique position, it is Saeed Uddin, the only non-Chinese member of the new-look Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). Mr Uddin, a Pakistani, is the first member of Hong Kong's 350,000-strong Asian ethnic minority community to be chosen for the government's premier anti-discrimination body. In the 15-member commission's nine-year life, it has had only one other foreigner - British solicitor John Budge, whose term ends on May 19, the day before Mr Uddin and his colleagues take over. Mr Uddin is looking forward to the challenge, especially as a long-awaited anti-racism bill is expected to be introduced into the Legislative Council this year. If it becomes law, it will add an important element to the commission's remit, which already encompasses gender, disability and family responsibility. 'Discrimination should become part of the legislation as soon as possible - the sooner the better,' he said. 'It should go into discussion and be passed.' The government is then likely to ask the commission to undertake enforcement of the law as part of its duties. This would be a role Mr Uddin, 63, would be more than able to fulfil. He is already a member of the Home Affairs Bureau's Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony and honorary secretary and immediate past chairman of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong, which oversees and manages the city's five mosques and two Muslim cemeteries. In 2003 he was awarded the Medal of Honour by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa for community service. Since arriving in Hong Kong in 1975, the father of three - one son, Farooq Saeed is captain of the Hong Kong hockey team - said he had become increasingly involved in the Islamic community and issues involving ethnic minority groups. That has led him to develop a good understanding of the government's shortcomings when dealing with Asians who have made the city their second home. He believed many problems could be resolved through the creation of greater awareness in the growing communities from countries including the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Nepal and Pakistan. 'Discrimination in Hong Kong is a matter of attitude,' Mr Uddin said. 'The government needs to give more consideration to educating people to mix with minorities because they are part of Hong Kong - they live, earn and spend here. They should get the same opportunities.' But because only one non-Chinese has been named to the EOC observers doubt the government is even considering moving in such a direction. A storm over the issue seems to be brewing even before new commissioners meet to shake off its tarnished image. The commission's credibility has been threatened since October 2003, when former chairman Michael Wong Kin-chow terminated the appointment of human-rights expert Patrick Yu Chung-yin before he started work as director of operations. A series of resulting scandals entangled Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping, ex-chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk and others and led to Mr Wong's resignation. Accusations were rife that the government, which makes the appointments, wanted the body to be as conservative as possible and did not want it to include liberal-minded people. Shortly after the government announced last Tuesday that only one of the commission's members would be retained in a revamped line-up, a Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman said it hoped for 'a fresh start' under the leadership of new chairman Raymond Tang Yee-bong. Mr Tang said the commission would benefit from the new board's perspectives. 'There will be new ideas, different ways of looking at certain old and new issues with people from different backgrounds,' he said. 'I am certainly looking forward to working with Mr Uddin.' But there is scepticism in many circles that much has changed. University of Hong Kong associate professor of law Carole Petersen said the government had wisely decided to choose a new group of people as commissioners. But those picked did not appear to come from a wide cross-section of Hong Kong's society. 'To regain credibility, the government needs to appoint a commission that is representative,' Ms Petersen said. 'I don't think they have achieved that.' Despite being an expert on equality issues, Ms Petersen said she knew little about most of those selected. The process had been secretive and the government was unwilling to accept nominations or reveal the qualifications of candidates. She suggested Mr Uddin had been appointed because of the approaching discrimination bill, but that being the only person from an ethnic minority group, he made for 'limited representation'. How much the other appointees knew about racial issues was unclear, but her experience from teaching a course on race discrimination law was that Hong Kong people were mostly uninformed. 'There's very little knowledge about racial discrimination law in Hong Kong,' Ms Petersen said. 'If people are put on the commission who have very little understanding, we're really in trouble.' There has been an explosion in the number of people coming to work in Hong Kong from other parts of Asia in the past decade. Domestic helpers, the majority, increased from nearly 121,000 in 1993 to 214,000 in 2003. Nepalis, who make up much of the workforce on construction sites, rose over the same time from 909 to 17,215. With the influx came an equally dramatic increase in the number of discrimination claims. Interest groups accused the government of ignoring migrant workers by failing to provide adequate services for them and their families. It is only in the past few years that the government has responded, putting the Home Affairs Bureau in charge of co-ordinating action. One step was creating the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony, an advisory body representing minority communities, non-government organisations and key government departments. They helped push for the drafting of the anti-racism bill. The chairman of the United Muslim Association of Hong Kong, Mohamed Alli Din, said there was a great need for such a law. Born in Hong Kong 76 years ago to an Indian soldier father and Malay mother, he claimed there was much discrimination against Asian ethnic minorities. His organisation ran a primary school for ethnic minority children in the New Territories and finding accommodation for the teachers was often a problem. 'When we tell the owner that they are Filipino, Pakistani or Indian, they say they won't accept them,' he said. 'There is also discrimination when we go shopping or to the market. These are very minor problems, but they hurt us.' A government employee for 33 years until retiring in 1985, Mr Din claimed the civil service now maintained discriminatory employment practices. 'Before we used to have a lot of ethnic minorities in the government, but now they have been all pensioned off and new members must know how to read and write Chinese,' he said. 'This is a way of stopping the ethnic minorities from joining the government service.' Mr Uddin acknowledged isolated cases of discrimination against Muslims. 'Some employers don't like staff to come to work with head scarves or beards. But this is not common and there are only a few cases that have come to our attention and we tried to solve them,' he said. Having served on the racial harmony committee for a year, he believed the top priority of ethnic minority groups was education. Hong Kong had inadequate educational facilities for children who did not read or write Chinese and came from families unable to afford the fees at English Schools Foundation and international schools. When he took up his post with the EOC he assumed he could bring such issues to the fore. But that could be difficult if the fears of critics are well founded. Outgoing commissioner Chan Yu also raised the possibility of the EOC being inadequately prepared for added responsibilities. The women's rights activist explained that commissioners served voluntarily, with the backing of about 60 staff who helped carry out recommendations and prepare reports. After complaints from the public are received and filed, they are investigated, mediated and, if necessary, taken to court. 'There are a lot of papers and they take numerous hours each week to read,' Ms Chan said, 'We would like the commission to implement an ordinance on racial discrimination, but with adequate resources. Each new ordinance needs resources for promotion and education and training of people in relevant sectors.' Lawmaking in Hong Kong is full of uncertainties but because of its importance, the anti-racism bill is receiving prompt attention. Mr Uddin may get his wish sooner rather than later. Whether his fellow commissioners share that desire is uncertain. Anti-discrimination lobbyists and ethnic minority groups seemingly have a game of wait-and-see ahead of them.