18 June 2018
The urgency of Leung Chun-ying's attempt to steamroll the HK$1 billion scholarship program through Legco suggests it is his personal interests, and not those of Hongkongers, that are the driving force. Photo: HKEJ
The urgency of Leung Chun-ying's attempt to steamroll the HK$1 billion scholarship program through Legco suggests it is his personal interests, and not those of Hongkongers, that are the driving force. Photo: HKEJ

‘One Belt, One Road’ scholarship: what is Leung Chun-ying after?

It seems Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying just can’t get enough of stirring up controversy — he appears to get some kind of a kick out of doing that.

Just weeks after his daughter’s “lug-gate” saga sparked a major public outcry against VIP treatment for big shots, his latest decision to push the funding request for his “One Belt, One Road” student scholarship scheme through the Legislative Council against the odds is bound to put him under fire again.

There is talk that the administration will formally table its funding request to Legco for the HK$1 billion (US$129 million) government scholarship program for students from countries along “One Belt, One Road”.

Leung proposed the scheme in his Policy Address in January.

To guarantee the passage of the scholarship bill through the legislature, it is said, the funding request for a pay rise for civil servants, which is scheduled to be put to the vote in the upcoming meeting of the Legco Financial Committee, is likely to be pre-empted, under Leung’s orders, by a funding request for the “One Belt, One Road” scholarship program.

Some suspect that could be an attempt by Leung to prevent the bill from being stonewalled by filibusters.

With only one month left in the Legco term, the pan-democrats could risk angering the entire civil sevice if they were to mount another filibuster to stall the scholarship bill, thereby leaving the Financial Committee with no time to scrutinize and vote on the pay rise proposal.

Under the existing Rules of Procedure, any government bill or resolution that fails to be passed by Legco before the end of its term will be automatically cancelled.

However, Leung’s apparent attempt to hijack the agenda of the Financial Committee and use the civil servants as hostages to blackmail the opposition parties into voting for the scholarship bill has not only provoked a backlash from the pan-democrats but also raised some eyebrows among the pro-establishment camp as well.

For example, Wong Kwok-kin, the lawmaker representing the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), has publicly questioned whether the scholarship bill deserves such priority and even referred to the government’s decision to bring this funding request forward regardless of widespread public opposition as both “contemptible” and “stupid”.

Wong even revealed that he had tried to talk the chief executive into postponing the submission of the bill until after the Legco elections in September, but said he just wouldn’t listen.

In the meantime, Chan Kin-por, the lawmaker representing the insurance industry and chairman of the Legco Financial Committee, has made it clear to Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim that since there are so many outstanding bills to be dealt with before the Legco term ends next month, it is simply impossible to squeeze the scholarship bill in for discussion and voting.

Even Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has openly doubted whether it is really that urgent for that bill to pass within this Legco term.

Many in the pro-establishment camp are worried that their election prospects in September could be undermined if they are forced to give the green light to this unpopular bill.

In fact, there are so many questions waiting to be answered concerning the “One Belt, One Road” scholarship program.

For instance, the Education Bureau has yet to confirm whether Hong Kong students are also eligible to apply or whether the scholarship is only available to students from “One Belt, One Road” countries.

Also, the administration is still unable to answer whether allowing overseas students to study in Hong Kong on this scholarship may undermine our local students’ chances of getting admitted to our universities, given the scarcity of university places in our city.

How could Leung and his administration expect lawmakers and the public to approve HK$1 billion in taxpayers’ money to fund such a poorly conceived, divisive and problem-ridden plan?

Isn’t it ironic and ridiculous that our government has for years ignored calls from the public to increase funding for our universities to offer Hong Kong kids more access to higher education, and then suddenly it is demanding that Legco immediately approve HK$1 billion in funding for students from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan?

Some suspect that the real reason why Leung is so obsessed with getting the scholarship bill passed is because he wants to prove to Beijing that he is capable of bringing the pro-establishment camp into line any time he wants, and therefore he deserves a second-term.

Scandals about certain pro-establishment heavyweights have recently come to light, one after another.

Were the disclosures of these incidents purely coincidental, or could they have been part of a carefully designed plot to warn members of the pro-establishment camp that they will be punished if they don’t fall into line?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 13.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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