26 October 2016
By going off tangent on the lead-in-water debate, Ng Leung-sing (inset) has only reinforced Hong Kong people's doubts about functional constituency lawmakers. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK
By going off tangent on the lead-in-water debate, Ng Leung-sing (inset) has only reinforced Hong Kong people's doubts about functional constituency lawmakers. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK

How lawmaker Ng Leung-sing unintentionally stirred an old debate

Lawmakers from the so-called functional constituencies have often been accused of being out of touch with reality and divorced from the needs and concerns of ordinary citizens.

Representing special interest groups, the legislators have been questioned over their role and performance and whether they are really serving any useful purpose.

While the establishment sees them as allies — the lawmakers usually side with the administration on key issues — opposition parties and democracy advocates view the legislators as symbols of an undemocratic electoral system.

Against this backdrop, calls have been growing for an abolition of the functional constituencies, with observers also citing the poor record of some lawmakers with regard to the issues they raise in the LegCo. 

Well, the critics now have some fresh ammunition, thanks to Ng Leung-sing, a lawmaker representing the banking sector.

On Thursday, Ng stood up and sought to initiate a debate in the LegCo about possible health benefits of lead in drinking water, drawings gasps from fellow legislators.

At a special LegCo panel meeting that was convened to discuss the water contamination scare at public housing estates, Ng suggested that a study could be undertaken to determine if lead-water may be having beneficial effects on people’s health and if it is even helping citizens live longer.

“What the public should pay attention is, why is our life expectancy increasing? Is lead-water a reason? Will the government conduct any study to see if there is some correlation between lead-water and life expectancy?” Ng said.

“Can we have scientific research… to determine whether an appropriate amount of lead in water can extend our life?” the lawmaker said, taking fellow legislators by surprise.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, trying hard to conceal her amusement, quickly passed the question to food and hygienic secretary Ko Wing-man.

Ko responded in a professional way, saying: “From the medical perspective, there is no document or evidence to support that lead is good for our health.”

As can be expected, this LegCo exchange soon became the topic of discussion in online forums, with people pouring scorn and ridicule on Ng for initiating such a debate.

Some netizens sarcastically commended Ng, who is a senior executive at a Chinese state-owned financial firm in Hong Kong, for raising a “very important” issue which has been missed by others.

One commentator, meanwhile, wondered if Ng had consumed too much lead-tainted water that it has affected his way of thinking.

The whole incident would indeed have been considered funny, were it not for the fact that it came at a time when authorities are struggling to cope with the problem of contaminated water at some public housing estates and schools.

In the meeting Thursday, pan-democrats were trying their best to urge the government to fix responsibility for the lead-in-water crisis, as they were not satisfied with the earlier suggestion that the blame lies mostly with external water supply equipment contractors.

Chief Secretary Lam said contractors and plumbers had failed to do a proper job and that remedial work was now underway.

But she admitted that this does not mean there were inadequacies in the work done by public officers working within the system.

The silly question raised by Ng, meanwhile, has only thrown the spotlight on the shortcomings of the functional constituency lawmakers who are handpicked by a small number of voters.

Ng, in fact, was little known to the public until he chaired in June Last year some LegCo finance committee meetings that discussed a controversial development plan for parts of New Territories.

As protesters staged a rally outside the LegCo building to call for a veto of funding for the project, Ng, as the chairman of the meeting, failed to keep order at the meeting.

The meeting eventually ended in chaos as pro-Beijing lawmakers voted for the development plan, while democrat lawmakers accused Ng of depriving them of a chance to put forth their views.

Following Ng’s latest conduct Thursday, critics say the lawmaker is merely an emblem of the larger issue surrounding the functional constituency representation.   

As the lawmakers seeming to living in their own world, unmindful of the problems faced by ordinary citizens, it is time to press ahead with fresh efforts to scrap the functional constituency seats.

Otherwise, we’ll see more farce of the kind that we had at the LegCo yesterday.

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EJ Insight writer

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