In order to push its controversial and highly unpopular funding requests through the legislature, the Leung Chun-ying administration pulled a trick over and over again in the last Legislative Council sitting.
The government embedded these debatable funding requests in undisputed funding proposals such as social welfare payments, in the hope that these controversial items would slip under the radar and be approved as a single basket of funding requests in one go.
Such a trick did work on several occasions, and it appears the government is pulling it again in this new term of Legco.
But the pan-democrats have learned a lesson and become much more vigilant against such sneaky tricks.
The administration once again embedded several controversial funding proposals into its comprehensive funding requests for the Capital Works Reserve Fund (CWRF).
These included funding requests for a Tiananmen Square-style town square in Yuen Long, a project that has met with fierce opposition both inside and outside Legco, and for an extravagant musical fountain in Kwun Tong.
Thanks to the vigilance and attention to detail of pro-democracy lawmakers, these controversial funding proposals were picked up by their radar this time around.
They demanded that the proposals be put to the vote separately. Yet, the government has so far refused to do so, and the pan-democrats have refused to back down. As a result, the entire CWRF funding request is gridlocked.
Another example of the government pulling the same trick is its recent funding request for a pay rise for government bureau chiefs.
Despite doubts about the urgency and necessity of this funding request at a time of public sector austerity, not to mention the poor job performance of these chiefs, the government insists that the funding proposal be granted as soon as possible.
As expected, the request is gridlocked due to the pan-democrats’ opposition.
What the government is doing will not only exacerbate partisan gridlock in the legislature but will also take a heavy toll on its popularity in the long run.
The public isn’t foolish. It can tell whenever the administration is trying to bend the rules or skirt Legco oversight. The more the government does so, the more dismayed the public will become.
The pro-establishment camp, too, is likely to pay a political price for collaborating with the administration in guaranteeing passage of these unpopular funding requests by invoking cloture and forcing a vote on them using their majority seats in Legco.
By playing the accomplice, the pro-Beijing camp would only fuel public discontent with them.
That said, both the government and the pro-establishment camp should observe procedural justice and stop pulling tricks where everybody loses.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 6
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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