Under the current system there are two subcommittees under the Legislative Council’s Financial Committee (FC): the Establishment Subcommittee (ES) and the Public Works Subcommittee (PWS).
While the former deals with funding requests put forward by the government for creating new senior or supervisory positions in the civil service, the latter examines funding requests for large infrastructure projects.
For years, according to the standard procedure, all funding bills tabled by the administration to Legco must be first examined and discussed by lawmakers in the ES and PWS before they are submitted to the Financial Committee for final decision.
However, Chan Kin-por, the incumbent FC chairman, recently said that in order to streamline the existing approval process of government funding requests, he is seriously considering abolishing both the ES and PWS, so that all such requests will be directly tabled to the Financial Committee for scrutiny and voting.
For years many pro-establishment lawmakers have been complaining that the two subcommittees are redundant and inefficient.
Worse, they only provide a platform for the pan-democrats to mount filibusters and publicity stunts to stall government funding bills. Given that, there have long been calls from the pro-Beijing camp to scrap the two subcommittees.
Even though some pro-establishment lawmakers are concerned about the possible backlash from the pan-democrats against the abolition of the ES and PWS, most of them are actually in favor of the idea.
And since the pro-establishment camp is now in complete control of Legco, it is believed that there is an over 50 percent chance of the suggestion being passed.
However, the abolition of the ES and PWS may give rise to another problem: once the two subcommittees are scrapped, it is expected that FC meetings are likely to get increasingly lengthy in the future.
And if that happens, it’s inevitable that the FC chairman and vice-chairman will have to take turns to chair the meetings, which would make the role of the FC vice-chairman a lot more important than it is now.
Currently, Michael Tien Puk-sun is serving as the committee’s vice-chairman. However, there is talk that if the two subcommittees are eventually scrapped, the pro-establishment camp would prefer someone more predictable and less defiant than Tien, such as the incumbent PWS chairman Lo Wai-kwok, to serve as the new FC vice-chairman.
However, Tien already said last week that he is determined to seek re-election as FC vice-chairman, regardless of whether the two subcommittees are scrapped or not.
It seems one can expect more high drama over the issue when Legco resumes in October.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 28
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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