By Poyi (Natalie) Leung
A majority of the lawmakers recognised the government’s efforts in preparing for the national security bill and cast a favourable vote at the Legislative Assembly yesterday.
The draft has then been passed on to a standing committee for an in-depth deliberation in which further amendments of the content could be made.
As the government had already presented the bill on December 19, 2008 to the Assembly, yesterday’s plenary meeting was started by a general discussion on the legislation.
Secretary for Administration and Justice, Florinda Chan, led her cabinet in the meeting to answer lawmakers’ inquiries about the anti subversion bill.
Kwan Tsui Hang was among the 25 lawmakers who supported the enactment of the legislation.
According to Kwan, it was necessary for each country to legislate in order to defend its national security.
The Penal Code of Portugal regulating national security ceased validation in Macau upon the establishment of the SAR in 1999.
Kwan also said that the enactment of the bill would not only fulfil the SAR’s constitutional responsibility, but also exercise its own right conferred by the Basic Law.
“We should not question the legislation as it is a unique right for Macau to enact the law independently on its own,” the lawmaker added.
In respond to the voices in society that the 40-day public consultation was “too short”, Kwan told the Assembly “the longer the consultation lasted did not necessarily mean the better the result was achieved”.
She said that the key was on whether the government was concerned about the activity, the level of participation from the public, and also on how the opinions obtained were accepted and analysed.
Although it was not a “perfect consultation”, Kwan praised the government’s efforts and dedication to stage public consultation events and look into all the opinions collected.
“We should not delay the legislation anymore and the bill can be further polished during the standing committee meetings afterwards,” Kwan said.
Criticising failures of government policies and wrong doings of officials, Kwan said, “do not jeopardise Chinese national security”, and thus the bill did not need to include “public interest” as a justification for offenders to defend for themselves.
As an “ordinary citizen or media worker”, the lawmaker said she believed the law would not target at these groups of people.
However, she added that the SAR government and the Assembly had to “cautiously” think about how to maintain a balance between public interest, as well as public right to know and safeguard the national security.
Some democrats in Macau demanded the law to follow standards adopted in the Johannesburg Principles in order to ensure basic human rights such as freedom of expression and access to information.
Florinda Chan pointed out that the principles were not an international convention and hence Macau did not have the obligation to comply with them, but added that the content of the bill was fully in line with two other human rights conventions.
Lawmaker Lei Pui Lam also agreed with the draft of the law, which he said showed the government’s respect to public opinions that “positively pushed forward the legislation”.
Lei also said he hoped that during the deliberation process in the standing committee, the government could continue to promote and explain the law to society so as to “help remove people’s doubts”.
Leonel Alves also supported the government to enact the law at this time, as “society’s understandings about the bill and people’s political awareness have been improved”.
“No law can be perfect,” Alves told the Assembly, adding “we should not be affected by the outside world to fulfil our own responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Iong Weng Ian suggested the Assembly to increase the maximum jail sentence for treason, secession and subversion against the Central People’s Government from 25 to 30 years, which is the longest imprisonment the court can hand out under the Penal Code of Macau.
When compared with other countries which also practised the civil law system, Iong said the 25 year jail sentence was “relatively light”.
According to another lawmaker Tsui Wai Kwan, both Italy and Germany’s most severe verdict for crimes of treason, secession and subversion was life sentence.
On the other hand, Ng Kuok Cheong, Au Kam San and Jose Pereira Coutinho criticised the government for “listening to public opinions selectively and giving insufficient time to the public consultation period”.
Coutinho also said that the article prohibiting theft of state secrets would suffocate freedom of the press in the SAR.
Au and Ng said they were “worried” about the anti subversion law which gave “obscure definition and opportunities for officials to abuse their power”, and added that the bill still had “plenty of room to improve”.