HKEJ Column | October 27th, 2007 |

2007-10-27 publish on 《SCMP》
Two arguments are frequently cited in favour of Hong Kong keeping the functional constituencies in its legislature. The first is that they produce  lawmakers with the  experience and knowledge necessary to give opinions  on legislative issues that fall within their  areas of expertise. Second, that functional constituencies are  a necessary safeguard against policies that might endanger the economy and our economic model.
Take, for example, the new construction projects promised by the chief executive in his recent policy address. One might  think  it would be very useful to have an engineer  present in the legislature  when such schemes are discussed.  But we  know the building sector  includes  a whole range of  professions and businesses.
Taking that line of reasoning to its logical extreme,   we should have elected representatives from the workers on the ground as well as engineers.    In fact, everyone involved, from developers to ironworkers,  should  be entitled to elect their own representatives to  contribute to the legislative process.
Given the range of issues that the Legislative Council has to consider  and the many businesses and professionals’ interests involved, the number of functional  seats  could  reach the  hundreds, if not thousands. That is, if one were to ensure “balanced participation” – a notion frequently emphasised by our government. This, of course, would lead to an absurd situation.
The public policy group The Professional Commons  believes that, if the real worry is  the lack of expertise in debates,  then professionals, scientists, unionists, economists, environmentalists and the like should be invited  to  speak in Legco.   This would also  ensure that the opinions  given  were less biased,  because such experts  do not have the next election to worry about.
Functional constituencies provide the necessary safeguard for our economic model, it has been argued.  But precisely which economic model? Maybe it is the  model where a handful of family companies continue to run and monopolise our domestic markets.  Those  in favour of retaining functional constituencies seem to fear that  the rich and powerful might be too busy  running their own businesses to  lobby politicians to support their legislative agenda. Therefore, they must be able to  elect  their own representatives.
This, they argue,  ensures “balanced participation” in public affairs. Meanwhile,  the rest of the population – with all that free time –  is expected to do the planning and campaigning  to get their candidates elected.  The  ironworkers who were on strike this summer  might disagree with this argument. So would a single mother in Tin Shui Wai  with no childcare support, and the 70-year-old who must  collect  cardboard boxes to get by.
Functional constituencies were introduced by the British in the 19th century as a way to enfranchise the few elite in society.   We have moved on since then.  Our economic model, and Hong Kong society as a whole, has undergone fundamental changes. That includes our notions of equality and fairness.
Can  functional constituencies, a dinosaur from the colonial era,  keep up with the changes?  Some believe they can, if we  expand the electoral base by giving every  citizen two votes. What they fail to mention is how we do this. Doctors, lawyers and accountants can easily be identified and given a vote. But what about housewives, retired people and  non-professionals. How do we  define which functional sector a person belongs to if he or she has to change jobs every few months, or  has to do three  different jobs  to make ends meet?
The Professional Commons believes there is a better solution than trying to fit everyone into a functional constituency. That is, for professionals and business interests to relinquish their special privilege and play by the same rules as everyone else. It’s about time.
Dennis Kwok is a founding member of The Professional Commons

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