Bills Committee on Electoral Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019
MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
President, the Electoral Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019 (“the Bill”) seeks to introduce technical amendments for the 2020 Legislative Council General Election and other public elections, including technical amendments concerning the electorate of functional constituencies, arrangements in the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance, as well as various electoral procedures.
The specific content include the lists of persons comprising certain Legislative Council functional constituencies and an Election Committee subsector; the deadline for lodging election returns, the limits prescribed for certain matters in election returns, the ways in which nomination forms are to be submitted; the requirements for letters that may be sent free of postage by candidates; and other minor amendments.
The Bills Committee on Electoral Legislation (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2019 (“the Bills Committee”) has 22 members, a valid proof that many Members are concerned about the Bill. As a member of the Bills Committee, I support the amendments.
President, the Bill was gazetted in March this year. It was mentioned in the press release at that time that the Government planned to introduce the Bill into the Legislative Council for First and Second Readings on 20 March 2019. The Government hoped that the Bill could be passed in mid-2019, so that the relevant new measures could be implemented in time for the District Council Election which was just concluded this month. But the reality is that the Legislative Council failed to convene meetings in June this year due to social incidents. On 1 July, the Legislative Council Complex was unprecedentedly stormed and the Legislative Council had to cease operation; thus, the Bill could not be submitted to the Legislative Council for Second Reading as originally scheduled.
The Bill is finally brought to light more than five months later. But even if it is passed, it can only be applied to the Legislative Council General Election next year. President, my concern is that, no matter when the Bill is officially passed, the implementation of the Bill after its passage is a bit hasty.
For example, if the Bill was passed in June this year as scheduled and would apply to the District Council Election held last Sunday, the electioneering teams would certainly be affected. The design of printed election materials would be directly influenced because the relevant design had to change to meet the requirements for sending one postage-free letter to electors. If the electioneering team had not noticed this new change and the design of printed election materials did not meet the requirement, the candidates must reprint or were forced to give up the only chance of sending one postage-free letter to electors. Regardless of the choice, the candidate’s election expenses and overall election deployment would be affected.
Regarding the amendments to the thickness and size of each postage-free letter to be sent by candidates, the Government’s explanation is that the amendment is to align with the size limit of “small letters” defined by Hongkong Post. This approach is understandable. At present, the international community and Hong Kong has a rising level of environmental awareness. I notice that whenever there is an election, electors of a constituency having many candidates will receive a large quantity of election mail. In the District Council Election that just held, the situation might not be too serious as there were few candidates in each constituency. However, there may be more than 20 groups of candidates in a geographical constituency of the Legislative Council, so mailboxes may really stuff with printed election materials. From the perspective of environmental protection, can we provide electors with more choices so that they can choose not to receive hard copies of election materials, but obtain relevant information by email or on the Internet?
Of course, I know that there are concerns whether people who are not used to using the Internet will be deprived of their entitled right to know. As regards such cases, can the Government consider asking various government agencies or subsidized bodies to provide online access to candidates’ information and election manifestoes at public places with large people flow, such as indoor recreation centres, public libraries and District Offices? Or can the Government put up large posters containing detailed information of candidates? This approach will encourage more electors to choose not to receive mailed leaflets without compromising their entitled right to know about candidates’ information.
On the other hand, to ensure fair elections, the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance provides that “a person, other than a candidate or a candidate’s election expense agent, engages in illegal conduct at an election if the person incurs election expenses at or in connection with the election”.
Under the existing legislation, each item of expenditure of $100 must be supported by invoices and receipts. In the past, many candidates had been investigated for inadvertent mistakes or typographical errors when reporting election expenses. I learnt that some of our colleagues had been investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption because of errors in reporting insignificant expenses. They eventually had to lodge election petitions to prove that they had not intentionally created unfairness. These incidents led to the wastage of a lot of manpower, financial resources, time and social resources, which was rather disturbing and unsatisfactory.
President, in a society where it costs over $30 dollars for a breakfast, the threshold for election expenses to be supported by invoices and receipts should be raised long ago. Having considered the inflation factor and the increases in the election expense limits, the Government now raises the threshold for election expenses to be supported by invoices and receipts to $500. The response is really rather slow. Another example is the expenses on publicity on the Internet. The authorities have only formulated clear guidelines in recent years; this is a typical example of lacking awareness and failing to adapt to social changes.
President, as a Legislative Council Member from a functional constituency (“FC”), I naturally have fewer types and items of election expenses than that of Members returned from geographical constituencies. Yet, I still have to spend considerable time handling these matters. To be fair, in the course of a very busy election campaign, it is rather unsatisfactory if I still have to spare the time to deal with trivial invoices or details of expenses. I hope the Government will, in formulating relevant regulations and administrative measures, strike a balance between regulation and administrative burden, so as to avoid using huge social resources for tracing insignificant amounts.
In addition, concerning the composition of FCs, members of the Bills Committee representing FCs have also expressed different views on the Information Technology FC; Wholesale and Retail FC; Agriculture and Fisheries FC; Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication FC. There may be fewer problems with the Finance FC to which I belong but there are still certain areas lacking clarity.
President, Mr CHEUNG Kwok-kwan is also a member of the Bills Committee. When he spoke earlier, he expressed concern about the Finance FC to which I belong. In fact, the current electorate of the Finance FC includes banks, restricted licence banks and deposit-taking companies as specified in the Banking Ordinance (Cap. 155). Hence, as the nature of the eight virtual banking licences recently issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (“HKMA”) is the same as that of banks, the relevant licence operators will become electors in the Finance FC.
Nevertheless, as regards whether the electorate of Finance FC should include the 18 existing Stored Value Facility (“SVF”) Licensees, SVFs that are also banks will meet the requirement. At present, only 3 of the 18 existing SVFs meet the requirement and the licensees concerned are the electors in the Finance FC. Yet, there are no explicit specifications of the remaining SVFs.
Honourable colleagues may be unfamiliar with the name SVF; the Octopus card that we use extensively is a typical example of SVF. According to the Payment Systems and Stored Value Facilities Ordinance, the Monetary Authority is authorized to issue and monitor SVF licences. However, the relevant electoral legislation has not explicitly stated whether SVFs are eligible electors in the Finance FC. Let me provide some more information, the Monetary Authority is a person appointed by the Financial Secretary under section 5A of the Exchange Fund Ordinance (Cap. 66 of the Laws of Hong Kong). The current Monetary Authority is also the incumbent Chief Executive of HKMA, Eddie YUE. In other words, the SVF licences and the licences under the three-tier banking system that I just mentioned are both issued by HKMA.
According to information released by HKMA in the second quarter of this year, the total number of active SVF accounts is 61.24 million, the total number of SVF transaction is 1.6 billion and the total transaction amount is $50 billion. President, it can be seen that SVF is a transaction mode frequently used by the public and its functions are similar to certain transactions handled by traditional banks. After I have become a Legislative Council Member representing the Finance FC, I have met and communicated with the persons-in-charge of SVFs from time to time to find out more about their operation and listen to their views. I hope the Government will clearly define SVF to avoid grey areas.
President, I believe that there are quite a lot of situations similar to those of the FC to which I belong. The Policy Bureaux or departments concerned should straighten out these situations one by one and minimize grey areas.
President, I so submit.