Motion on “Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices)(Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2021” (2021.05.12)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, the Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2021 (“the Bill”) stipulates the requirements on oath-taking by public officers and develops complete and clear standards for oath-taking. With very clearly written content, the loopholes of the past are plugged. I believe the Bill can deliver a strong message to those who want to engage in public office: oath-taking is a solemn pledge with substantive binding effect, and oath takers definitely should not take the oath untruthfully.

According to Article 104 of the Basic Law, public officers must swear to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to HKSAR, but there is a lack of specific regulations. In the oath-taking ceremony of the new term of Legislative Council Members in 2016, many elected Members from the opposition camp used the oath-taking ceremony as a chance to perform by making “additions” to the oath when reading out the oath and expressing the so-called political demands with props or other means. Some of them even advocated “Hong Kong independence” and insulted China. A solemn oath of office was eventually turned into a political farce. At last, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress took action and made an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law, defining the oath-taking forms or requirements to prevent recurrence of political farces. Until recently, in response to various new changes including the introduction of the National Security Law, the Government has prescribed comprehensive oath-taking requirements for public officers.

Apart from expressly providing the requirements and conditions on upholding the Basic Law and bearing allegiance to SAR, the Bill also provides a positive list and a negative list. The latter sets out the acts that should not be committed, including advocating “Hong Kong independence”, promoting “self-determination of sovereignty” or “referendum”, soliciting interference by foreign governments or organizations, committing acts that undermine the order of the political structure, and making use of an election to confront the Central People’s Government and the SAR Government. The Bill makes it clear to public officers that committing these offences do not only violate the National Security Law, but also breach the oath.

The requirement for public officers to take an oath of allegiance is an international practice, as nowhere in the world would accept public officers committing acts that endanger national security. This should also be the case for Hong Kong. Nevertheless, some people may think that the negative list is too rigid and detailed. But this is because many public officers have staged too many farces, some have even committed acts that blatantly endanger national security and completely violate the integrity of public officers. The existing arrangement of the Bill only seeks to set things right and correct the past mistakes. To dovetail with the requirements of the National Security Law, it is fair and reasonable for the Bill to set out clearly the various types of illegal acts.

In fact, previous requirements on oath-taking were quite lenient and have given rise to many problems. The Bill enacted today aims to tell everyone that oath-taking is not simply a ceremony, but also a solemn pledge made by public officers. Oath-taking has substantive binding effect on, and is a fundamental requirement of, public officers.

Another key point of the Bill is the requirement for District Council (“DC”) members to take oath in accordance with the law. In fact, candidates who stand for DC elections shall sign a declaration to the effect that they will uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to SAR. Does it make sense if they are not required to take an oath when assuming office? This is not tenable. It is a matter of course that DC members must take the oath in accordance with the law, which is also their responsibility. The oath can also remind DC members of their due responsibilities and the need to avoid committing acts that breach their allegiance to SAR. By making the requirements clear now, disputes can be avoided in the future.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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