Florinda Chan encourages criticism from media

Thursday, July 29, 2010
Issue 1075, Page 2
Word count: 624
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda Chan yesterday explained why providing judicial aid to civil servants will not jeopardise press freedom, and also told reporters to “continue to criticise” the Government.

She met with local reporters at the Legislative Assembly after discussing with the First Standing Committee the bill which is to offer financial help to all civil servants, including those on the individual labour contracts, when they are being sued or are suing a third person due to execution of public duties.

A revised version of the draft law has been delivered to the standing committee.

Florinda Chan said that concerns in society regarding an impact on freedom of the press and freedom of speech and the concept of “the Government giving money to civil servants to sue civilians” are a “misunderstanding”.

She stressed that a civil servant can apply for the judicial aid only when the lawsuit is caused by executing his or her public duties, and not “personal reasons”.

Therefore, the secretary told reporters the Government believed that the bill is “justified, impartial and meets the public interest”.

In the newest draft of the bill, the Government has introduced more requirements in Article 4 so that only when “there is strong evidence showing the applicant [civil servant] is a victim of intimidation or crimes of retaliatory nature, and the behaviour has harmed his/her life, physical integrity, freedom, reputation or relatively huge amount of property [meaning over MOP 150,000]”, the civil servant can have the legal costs settled by the Government when initiating a lawsuit against a third person.

In order to prevent abuse of the system, one more rule has been added besides the original three, that if the court judgement concludes that the plaintiff initiated the lawsuit “maliciously” or because of “false accusations”, he or she will not only lose the judicial aid but also be liable to criminal and disciplinary responsibility (highest punishment is to be removed from the official post).

In addition, an independent committee will be formed to provide advice to the chief executive before he is to decide whether or not to approve the judicial aid application. However, Florinda Chan disclosed that the committee members will be appointed by the chief executive.

“It is expected that civil servants will not misuse the system because [the whole approval procedure] is very rigorous,” she said.

Meanwhile, the secretary reiterated that the bill is not to create “new counts of crimes” or a new system, adding it is only to “extend the existing system of the same kind, which was established in 2006, from the Judiciary Police and the prison guards to all civil servants”.

Press freedom ‘guaranteed’

Florinda Chan said Article 27 of the Basic Law as well as Article 4 and 7 of the Publishing Law ensuring freedom in criticisms, discussions, expressing opinions in the publishing industry and independent protection for media workers will not be affected after the enactment of the draft law.

“There is no problem, you all [reporters] can continue to criticise… If there were no criticisms we [officials] wouldn’t grow and some public departments might not be able to perform as well as they are now,” she said.

Yet, the secretary pointed out that the news media also has its own responsibility and cannot abuse freedom of publishing and “make up stories” without any proof.

“No civil servants will sue reporters if they are working in line with the Publishing Law…We can’t see any problems there,” she said.

As for behaviours such as drawing ironic comics, writing opinion columns or calling in to a radio program and criticising a government official, Chan said they will not be subject to charges “unless they are being done maliciously or involve the making of false claims”.

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