Building Democracy: Creating Good Government for Hong Kong

By Christine Loh | Go to book overview

Foreword

Yash Ghai

I received the flattering invitation from Christine Loh to write a foreword to this excellent and timely volume as I was presiding over the National Constitutional Conference of Kenya (June 2003).1 This invitation stimulated reflections on the importance of good governance and the general process of constitution review, and lessons that the Kenya experience might hold for Hong Kong.

Kenya became independent of Britain in 1963. The independence constitution was negotiated between Britain and leaders of Kenyan political parties, in which the people played no direct role. The constitution sought to establish a parliamentary democratic system with a high degree of devolution of power to regions, and an independent judiciary preserving appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. It contained, for its time, an extensive bill of rights. Several independent institutions were set up to exercise sensitive state functions, like managing the electoral system, the audit of state accounts, public prosecutions, and the discharge of police and public service powers.

Very briefly, the background to the current review of the constitution lies in Kenya’s history of the last forty years — in the dismantling of freedoms and democracy following independence; the establishment of one party rule (which lasted from 1982 to 1991); the enactment of draconian laws like preventive detention, and the intimidation of those who dared to criticise the government; the emergence of a highly personalised system of rule, with heavy reliance on patronage; corruption and plunder of the state; the

1 The Conference is broadly comparable to a constituent assembly whose task is to debate, amend if necessary, and adopt the draft constitution presented to it by the Kenya Constitution Review Commission (which also I chaired).

-viii-

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