21 February 2019
John Tsang (R) has come under fire after he refused to respond to questions from lawmakers Edward Yiu, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Leung Kwok-hung (seen in picture on the left) and questioned their legal status. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK
John Tsang (R) has come under fire after he refused to respond to questions from lawmakers Edward Yiu, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Leung Kwok-hung (seen in picture on the left) and questioned their legal status. Photos: HKEJ, RTHK

Tsang faces heat for ignoring four lawmakers; govt does a U-turn

Financial Secretary John Tsang has faced criticism from pan-democratic lawmakers for refusing to take questions from four lawmakers whose are facing a legal challenge over their status.

Tsang, who said over the weekend that he is “actively” considering joining the race to become Hong Kong’s next top leader, caused an uproar in the Legco on Monday as he said that he won’t respond to questions from lawmakers whose eligibility to remain in the house has come under a cloud.

Citing advice from government lawyers, Tsang told a Legco panel that he and other officials will not take queries from Lau Siu-lai, Edward Yiu, Nathan Law and Leung Kwok-hung. 

As he outlined his stance at a Legco finance committee meeting, it drew a flurry of protests from pro-democracy legislators as well as others.

Tsang was accused of violating the Basic Law by refusing to recognize elected representatives. 

It was also pointed out that casting doubts on the legal status of Lau, Yiu, Law and Leung is improper as the High Court is yet to begin hearings over a government bid to get them disqualified.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) had earlier sought a judicial review on the four lawmakers in a bid to get them disqualified from the Legco as they did not take their oaths properly.

Lau, a pro-democracy lawmaker; Yiu, a newly elected lawmaker from the architecture functional constituency; Law, a leader of the pro-democracy youth group Demosistō; and radical lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung from the League of Social Democrats, were deemed to have violated the law, based on Beijing’s controversial interpretation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

Tsang told Legco panel members that based on advice from DoJ, he and other public servants will not answer questions posed by the four lawmakers until a court gives a ruling on the lawmakers’ eligibility to continue in office.

Pointing to the government’s stance that was outlined by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam on Oct. 31 and Nov. 8, Tsang said questions can be taken only from lawmakers who took their oaths properly.

Tsang’s attitude angered pan-democratic lawmakers, while pro-establishment lawmakers also expressed concern that such stance could paralyze Legco operations.

Following the strong objections, the government did an about-turn on the matter.

Responding to queries from Starry Lee and Dennis Kwok, who serve as chairperson and deputy chairman respectively of the Legco’s House Committee, Chief Secretary Lam said officials should answer questions from all lawmakers.

However, she added that it doesn’t change the government’s legal stance against the four lawmakers, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Lam reportedly wrote a letter later to Legco president Andrew Leung, stressing that the government’s “new” stance is aimed at avoiding disputes and ensuring that the Legco functions smoothly.

Later, Tsang said late Monday that he agrees with Lam and that he will drop his previous insistence.

The finance chief dismissed suggestions that he was a victim of the government’s U-turn on the matter.

Calling it surprising that Tsang used the government’s previous stance to defend his act during the finance panel meeting Monday, Andrew Leung said the four lawmakers and the Legco as a whole should be respected until the court has passed a ruling and disqualified the lawmakers.

In a joint letter sent to Lam, 26 democrats claimed that qualification of the four has been deemed valid by the Legco chief and therefore any legal opinions quoted by and actions taken against their qualification were a breach of the Basic Law.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, was quoted by media as saying that Tsang may have tried to gain favor with Beijing by taking a tough stance on the four lawmakers who are facing a legal challenge.

The move may be aimed at improving his prospects for getting the green light from China to join the 2017 chief executive election in Hong Kong.

Ma Ngok, a political commentator from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the incident shows that it is time for Tsang to quit his government job if he wants to run in next year’s election.

Otherwise, we may see more events like this one that will end up showing Tsang in poor light, he said.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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