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Monday, June 27, 2016, 10:04

Drafting the Basic Law the greatest joy

By Joseph Li in Hong Kong
Drafting the Basic Law the greatest joy
Tam Yiu-chung said he is satisfied with the performance of Starry Lee Wai-king, who took over from him in April 2015 as the new chairperson of DAB. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Looking back at his political career spanning 30 years, Tam Yiu-chung derives great happiness and a very strong sense of satisfaction from his role as a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee from 1985 to 1990 in the run-up to the reunification.

He describes a very difficult road at that time, amid pre-handover disputes between China and Britain and the fear that there would be no “through train” or smooth transition of Hong Kong in 1997.

“The road to reunification was by no means an easy one to travel,” he recalled. “We encountered a great deal of difficulties during the law drafting period because it involved two entirely different systems transiting from British rule to ‘Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong’ and ‘a high degree of autonomy’, different jurisdictions, as well as problems involving the relations between the central authorities and the special administrative region.”

At that time, Tam was a member of the legal subgroup under the Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which was charged with the task of singling out Hong Kong laws that were not consistent with the Basic Law. They picked out seven to eight such laws, while fearing that there would not be a smooth handover in the absence of a “through train” arrangement between China and Britain.

“Fortunately when the Basic Law was promulgated, Hong Kong society at large found it acceptable and in line with the Sino-British Joint Declaration, while it was more progressive than the joint declaration in certain areas,” he said with a pleasant smile.

During the drafting period, the law drafters often went to Beijing to reflect the concerns of Hong Kong residents. He was particularly pleased that after some persuasion by the law drafters, a generous arrangement was granted that even Hong Kong residents who hold foreign passports are eligible to apply for Home Return Permits to visit the mainland.

Tam is one of the only members of the 1985 Legislative Council who still sits in the current legislature – another being Lau Wong-fat, former chairman of Heung Yee Kuk.

Tam noted that the pre-1997 legislature had many appointed members who helped the passage of controversial decisions such as the designation of Hong Kong as the first asylum for Vietnamese boat people and the construction of the nuclear power plant in Daya Bay, while the legislators were more educated and polite.

With the introduction of elections in subsequent years and elected lawmakers accounting for half of the legislature, LegCo has become highly populist, he lamented. And, since 2007, the legislature has suffered from constitutional reform disputes, Tam added ruefully.

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