23 October 2016
Hong Kong officials have been urging lawmakers to stop blocking key bills and funding proposals, saying that it is their 'duty' to support the government. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong officials have been urging lawmakers to stop blocking key bills and funding proposals, saying that it is their 'duty' to support the government. Photo: HKEJ

Are lawmakers expected to be rubber stamp for the executive?

With the copyright bill passing its second reading, the government is making all-out efforts to exert pressure on pan-democratic lawmakers to end their stalling tactics and see the legislation through. 

Top officials in the Leung Chun-Ying administration are reminding lawmakers that it is their “duty” to engage in discussions and debate over the bill and eventually approve the new law.

In the past few days, we have seen Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and Commerce Secretary Gregory So wage a media campaign in which they suggested that lawmakers would be failing the public if they resort to more filibustering.

You can scrutinize and debate the bill but you should not block it — this is the message to the pan-democrats.

In fact, it would be deemed “irresponsible” if lawmakers stand in the way of an important piece of legislation, according to the officials.

Well, the officials seem to think that all the 70 lawmakers sitting in the Legislative Council should serve as mere rubber stamps, and that it is their duty to press the “Yes” button on key government bills.

The propaganda machine has come into full gear as authorities want to build public opinion that filibustering is unacceptable, especially given the current weak economic environment.

Chief Executive Leung has trotted out some figures in a bid to convince the public that filibustering will have repercussions on people’s livelihood.

Leung said the government had submitted 72 proposals, involving a total of HK$67.5 billion, to the Legislative Council’s public works subcommittee.

However, only five funding applications were discussed, and of those only one, which entails HK$100 million in expenditure, was approved as of January 21, he said.

“We have conducted feasibility studies, we are ready [to roll out the projects],” Leung said, adding that the projects include expansion of Kwai Chung and Tuen Mun hospitals and a cultural center in the Yau Tsim Mong District.

The chief executive then warned that slow progress of the bills in the legislature could affect the job prospects for fresh graduates this year.

Apart from government officials, Zhang Xiaoming, the head of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, has also urged Hong Kong people to put a halt to any actions that affect the city’s progress.

While he did not elaborate, it was clear that he was taking aim at the filibustering moves of some lawmakers who tried to block controversial legislation and funding proposals in the LegCo.

The remarks may be topical, but it would be unrealistic if the establishment camp thinks that they would be enough to make the pan-democrats change their stance and end the filibustering.

Apart from the current campaign on the copyright law amendment bill, a request for extra funding for a high-speed railway project is sure to be the next battlefield for the democrats’ filibustering.

Approval won’t come easy as the government is yet to submit a clear plan on how it will prevent mainland officials from exercising powers in a rail terminus here without breaching the Basic Law.

Democrats have raised questions about a co-location plan for Chinese officials six years ago, but the issue still yet to be resolved.

Under the Hong Kong-Guangzhou high-speed rail plan, there could be a joint checkpost in Hong Kong with some mainland immigration officials stationed in the city.

The co-location plan has proved to be contentious, with opponents arguing that it will mean encroachment by China into Hong Kong’s autonomy.   

Coming back to the issue of filibustering, we need to examine whether such moves are good or bad for the city.

Looking at the overall situation, we can say that the last thing that Hong Kong needs is rubber-stamp lawmakers.

Beijing has been pushing to change the current political structure of Hong Kong, aiming to vest more powers with the chief executive and moving away from the so-called separation of powers among administrative, legislative and judiciary branches.

In keeping with this, calls have been made on the legislature and judiciary to cooperate with the administration and help implement the government policies.

Such change, which has been mentioned by President Xi Jinping in 2008, has been a controversial topic in Hong Kong, with both the public as well as pan-democrats expressing reservations.

Now, Zhang — Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong — is again suggesting that the legislature should not come in the way of government operations.

But does it mean that lawmakers have to blindly support all government bills?

Most Hong Kong people agree that the lawmakers they elect are meant to monitor government operations and prevent any excesses and wrongdoing.

Even though the opposition camp occupies only a third of the LegCo seats, they have been backed by hundreds of thousands of people and represent a voice of the society.

It is the duty of the lawmakers to question the government on its policies and bills, rather than turn a blind eye to all sorts of proposals.

The sooner Leung and his top officials realize this, the better it will be for our city. 

– Contact us at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

EJI Weekly Newsletter