HONG Kong people are often reminded of Britain's tarnished record of withdrawal from colonies and that history could repeat itself when Britain pulls out in 1997. With less than 31/2 years to go before the Chinese Communist takeover, there are disturbing signs that Britain might well leave behind a good deal of messy and unfinished business. This may not be for want of trying, yet many would argue that Britain could and should have done better. Recent pronouncements by Chinese officials that the Legislative Council, municipal councils and district boards will be disbanded on July 1, 1997 further increased the anxiety of a jittery community filled with apprehension about the uncertain future. The problem is compounded by Beijing's warning that senior Hong Kong civil servants could also be removed from office in 1997. This shows the length that the Chinese Government would exert total control over the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government. The protracted row over 1994-95 elections has overshadowed the impasse in other areas. Besides the dismal outlook on democracy and human rights, there is concern that the much vaunted English-style rule of law could be undermined. Last October, the Governor warned that the lack of progress in the work of the Sino-british Joint Liaison Group (JLG) on localisation and adaptation of laws may result in a legal vacuum in 1997. Legco was told that 300 UK laws apply to Hong Kong. They have to be studied to see if they need to be replaced by local legislation. In addition, more than 500 Hong Kong ordinances and 1,000 items of subsidiary legislation also require scrutiny to ensure that they conform with the Basic Law. Laws which do not conform with the Basic Law will be declared null and void by the Chinese National People's Congress in 1997. The JLG is also working on a myriad of multilateral and bilateral treaties and agreements to ensure that they will continue in force after 1997. Progress is so slow that the former head of the British team of the JLG, Tony Galsworthy, warned that it could take 100 years to complete the work. Given Britain's bad record and Beijing's intransigence, such a bleak scenario cannot be ruled out. To help Legco members keep track of however little progress is made, I have asked the Attorney-General, Jeremy Mathews, to supply full lists of these laws, treaties and agreements, together with a timetable of their target completion dates. ANOTHER thorny issue which has come to the fore is right of abode for Hong Kong residents. For years, the JLG has tried in vain to find a definition for permanent resident so as to enable foreign nationals, including full British citizens, to have the right of abode. Last November the Secretary for Security, Alistair Asprey, told Legco that legislation aligning the Immigration Ordinance with the Basic Law might deprive British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTCs) of their right of abode. Last week, the Security Branch revealed that between 300,000 and 400,000 Hong Kong Chinese who have secured foreign citizenship could lose permanent resident status since they are no longer considered Chinese nationals under the Chinese Nationality Law.In addition, 10,000 to 20,000 non-Chinese BDTCs who have right of abode elsewhere face a similar fate. Time is running out as more and more complex problems being to surface. Britain may be proud of certain achievements in Hong Kong. Now the whole world is watching to see what the British will do in the final years of colonial rule to ensure that the present way of life can be preserved when they depart.