HOW legitimate is the Hong Kong Government? Will the future Special Administrative Region Government be able to claim the same, or higher level of legitimacy to rule? A government requires the consent of the governed if it is to be regarded as legitimate. It is therefore difficult to argue that any colonial government meets this criterion. It is not the practice of colonial governments to seek the consent of the people through democratic means. The best claim that such a government can make is that it has not been overthrown. In Hong Kong's case, the British Government has never asked the Hong Kong people for consent. However, its job has been made easier because most people had escaped from rule by the Chinese government. Over the past decades, waves of people came to Hong Kong to escape from civil war, famine or revolution. Over the years, the Hong Kong Government has also developed its own efficient and corruption-free civil service, thereby earning a form of ''legitimacy'' by proving its ability and capacity to govern the territory. The existing political structure is of course still highly autocratic, even today. Power comes from London and is vested almost exclusively in the Governor. The powers which Chris Patten has are not much different from his predecessors of the last century. Although it seems a long time ago, the first direct elections to the Legislative Council were only held in 1991 for a minority of the seats. The Governor still appoints the Executive Council, his top policy advisory body, and he has the power to make nominations to other public bodies including the legislature. Appointees largely represent business and professional viewpoints. It has been said that Hong Kong is ruled by an oligarchy, not by any prescribed constitutional rules, but by the appointment system which co-opts the rich and influential into the colonial structure in order to give it a semblance of legitimacy. How legitimate is the Joint Declaration when put to the test of it having the consent of the people of Hong Kong? These people were not given any chance to take part in the negotiations over their future. The bilateral agreement was presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Essentially, several million Hong Kong people who are British subjects at law, will simply be handed to another sovereign power come 1997 without their consent. And China has no qualms about claiming back British subjects because it regards them as Chinese nationals because it does not recognise the unequal treaties of the last century. At best, the people of Hong Kong have only given conditional consent to the Joint Declaration. If the fundamental promise of ''autonomy'' made to them in 1984 cannot be realised, then any consent may be regarded as void. This is not something either Britain or China would like to contemplate. If the Joint Declaration cannot be successfully implemented, then what will Britain's residual responsibility be to the people of Hong Kong, or at least the 3.25 million British subjects here? THE honourable thing to do would, of course, be to allow any of them who might wish to settle in Britain to be able to do so. Only in this way, can Britain discharge her responsibility. It is hard to see this happening since Britain will not even grant full British citizenship to the 25 wives and widows of ex-servicemen. This probably means that Britain will always have to argue that the Joint Declaration is successfully implemented whatever the reality may be. China sees all ethnic Chinese here as Chinese nationals and Beijing as the guardian of Hong Kong's interests. No consent from Hong Kong people was, therefore, needed for the Joint Declaration. It probably believes that China has discharged its responsibility towards Hong Kong by allowing it a measure of autonomy from the central people's government. In China's eyes, the passing of a resolution to dissolve the three-tiers of government in Hong Kong after 1997 will in no way affect the successful implementation of the Joint Declaration. It represents a political solution to a difficult problem. If there are breaches of the declaration, there is unfortunately no mechanism for redress. And the signatories will not even admit to any problems.