24 October 2018
Pan-democrats are upset with the disqualification of four of their lawmakers, raising the prospect of non-cooperation in the legislature over passage of a key bill. Photo: AFP
Pan-democrats are upset with the disqualification of four of their lawmakers, raising the prospect of non-cooperation in the legislature over passage of a key bill. Photo: AFP

Pan-democrats must keep politics out of education funding bill

The passage of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s HK$3.6 billion education sector-related funding request in the legco before a summer recess would probably have been a slam dunk had it not been for the explosive court decision last Friday to disqualify four lawmakers for improper oath-taking. 

The court ruling has not only completely upset the balance of power between pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camps in the Legco, it has also put a sudden end to the honeymoon between Lam and the opposition.

Intense squabbles between the pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing camp, over whether the four disqualified lawmakers should continue to be allowed to join Legco meetings, have replaced normal discussion about the HK3.6 billion funding request at the recent Legco financial committee meeting, leading to the adjournment of the meeting for two consecutive days.

As there is only one Legco financial committee meeting left, which is set for Wednesday, before the legislature takes its summer break, a huge question mark now hangs over whether Lam’s funding request for her ambitious education reform program, one of the core items in her “new deal”, can pass Legco according to schedule.

We totally understand that the pan-democrats have a legitimate gripe with the court decision to strip four of their members of the lawmaker status, and they also have every right to air their grievances in public.

However, at the same time, we have serious reservations about the opposition’s act of disrupting the recent financial committee meetings and turning them into a political and partisan battleground.

We strongly believe that under no circumstances should partisan division be allowed to jam the gears of our legislature, particularly when it comes to non-political and public issues, such as education, that would affect the lives of millions in the city.

In other words, we are definitely against any act of politicizing social issues in Legco at the expense of public interests, and we are even more against any attempt by any political camp to use its power to veto public policy initiatives in our legislature as a bargaining chip against the government.

To be fair, the current administration under Lam has basically nothing to do with the judicial review applications over the oath-taking saga, as the petitions had been filed during the former Leung Chun-ying administration.

Nor does Lam have any say whatsoever in whether the four lawmakers in question should be stripped of their seats, because it is entirely up to the judiciary to exercise its rights. Also, under the principle of separation of powers, it is unconstitutional for the executive branch to try to influence or interfere in court decisions.

As such, we believe the pan-democrats are totally unjustified in taking it out on Lam and retaliating by sabotaging her education policy initiatives no matter how discontented they might be with the disqualification of four of their colleagues.

Some might argue that one should not have completely dissociated Lam from the judicial review cases against the four opposition lawmakers because after all, she was the No.2 in the Leung administration, and was therefore supposedly involved in all major decisions made by the former government, including the decision to come after the four pan-democratic lawmakers.

Such notion might sound logical at first glance, but as a matter of fact it can’t hold up to even the most basic scrutiny. It is because, let’s not forget a fundamental fact, even though she was the Chief Secretary in the previous government, constitutionally speaking Lam had no jurisdiction over Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen, which means she had no authority to interfere in the decisions made or actions taken by the Department of Justice.

Therefore, it would be both unfair and misleading to blame Lam for the disqualification of the four opposition lawmakers.

It is said that the pan-democrats are yet to decide on what they are going to do at the Legco financial committee meeting tomorrow. However, it is also said they are unanimous that they are going to stick together and speak with one voice no matter what happens at the meeting.

Yet, whatever the pan-democrats are planning to do, it is our sincere hope that they can stay rational and stop making Lam and her education policy initiatives a scapegoat for a “mistake” made by the former administration.

Politicizing social issues such as education and stonewalling public policy initiatives proposed by Lam would not only hurt overall public interests, it would also take an irreversible toll on the credibility and popularity of the pan-democrats themselves.

We sincerely hope that pan-democrats can keep a sense of proportion during tomorrow’s financial committee meeting, keep in mind the larger public interest and stop victimizing non-political public policy initiatives proposed by the government that concern the well-being of millions of people.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 17

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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