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It is broke so do fix it

A flawed system is hard to fix. This was highlighted earlier this month when a dispute arose over pay structures in the Legislative Council (LegCo). While a suggestion by Cheung Man-kwong, from the Democratic Party, that members should be paid according to the hours they put in may make some sense, it at best reflects a structural dysfunction within the system.

Two factors seem to be out of sync with the nature of even a quasi-democratic body. Some members have other jobs, which limits the time they devote to matters of governance and energy they bring to bear. It also at least implies that sitting in the LegCo can be considered as  only being a part time commitment.

Adjusting pay scales would not go far in addressing this dysfunction, as it is basically created by a lack of clarity in the area of who or what individual members are responsible to.

Politicians elected to parliament in democratic systems are highly aware that they represent all the people and sectors within their electorates, including those who did not vote for them.

Coming up to election times, there is a scramble to collect from the Hansard (verbatim records of all parliamentary debates and activities in a Westminster system) all contributions made by individual members in order to flaunt them during election campaigns, to demonstrate to all the people of their electorate how well they have been represented.

The number of times an individual member spoke, motions put forward and comments proffered are all valuable ammunition for a campaign, as people are profoundly interested in how actively and with what level of dedication and success their representative in government presented their interests.

However, half of the members of LegCo are not accountable to the people, as they only represent their own constituencies. Some may have been voted for by the handful of members of the industry they represent and others may have simply been appointed by a board or committee.

As a result, as long as they provide some return to their sector, the few they represent may be quite happy with their performance. However, as members of a body which is supposedly set up to monitor government policy across the board, covering everything from business interests to social policy, they may make little contribution and are unlikely to face any backlash for their neglect.

Chief executives of the special administrative region face the same dilemma. They are not elected by the people and it is difficult to see how they are structurally responsible to the people.

The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Vatican II) states that the political community exists for the common good. However, the priests of Hong Kong diocese, in a statement published in the Sunday Examiner on February 19, say that the dysfunctional nature of the Hong Kong government precludes any effective monitoring of its actions by the people.

Consequently, proposals that are judged by the people to run contrary to public opinion can have a pretty free run through the LegCo and come out at the other end as legislation, without being scrutinised from the perspective of the common good.

The problems that pay rates in the LegCo prompt can only be properly resolved when members are held responsible by the very people they are supposed to represent. In our world today, this is achieved through a system of direct election. JiM