With less than three months remaining in my term as a lawmaker, perhaps it is time for me to take stock of what I have done over the past four years.
I have taken part in a total of 31 bills committees dealing with new laws that covered a wide range of subjects.
Through participating in the work of these committees, I have realized that even though the approval ratings of the Legislative Council have remained low in recent years, and the public is largely under the impression that our legislature has been paralyzed by partisan gridlock and cannot agree on anything, Legco has effectively fulfilled its role over the past four years when it comes to scrutinizing bills submitted by the government.
It works like this: when the administration wants to enact a new bill or introduce amendments to an existing ordinance, it first publicizes the full text in the government gazette and then submits the bill or amendments to Legco for first and second readings.
Then, the bill or amended bill will be tabled to the House Committee to decide whether a bills committee should be set up to scrutinze it, and here’s where our work really begins.
Scrutiny of bills can continue for months or even years and is usually a long, drawn-out process during which major stakeholders often argue over the bill clause by clause or even word by word.
The process might be exhausting and time-consuming, but it is necessary, because every law that is passed by Legco can have far-reaching implications for society.
For instance, last year I chaired the committee on the Inland Revenue (Amendment) (No.4) Bill, during which I chaired countless meetings among the administration, the banking sector and the accounting sector to narrow the differences among them and help them find common ground.
Through our concerted efforts, a lot of lobbying, marathon meetings and bargaining, the government eventually agreed to withdraw a controversial clause in the bill so as to ensure its passage.
Under Article 74 of the Basic Law, however, Legco members’ hands are basically tied when promoting private members’ bills — that is, bills not sponsored by the government.
Moreover, under the bizarre split voting system, any private member’s bill must be approved by a majority of the geographical constituencies and a majority of the functional constituencies to get passed.
As a result, it is extremely difficult for any legislative initiative put forward by a lawmaker, especially one from the pan-democratic camp, to get passed by Legco.
However, lawmakers can still influence government policies by actively taking part in bills committees, and it has been proven that it does work.
Our role as “gatekeepers” of new laws put forward by the administration should not be overlooked by society.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 22.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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