Following the High Court decision to disqualify four localist lawmakers last month, the Legislative Council Commission hired a barrister to seek independent legal advice on whether it should demand full recovery of their salaries and all the reimbursable expenses related to their office as lawmakers. It is said that the commission has yet to make a final decision on the matter.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is apparently distancing herself from the issue. When asked by the media whether the administration would seek full recovery of the payments, she said the government would not intervene since the matter “rests completely within the jurisdiction of LegCo”.
She is only partly correct. Constitutionally speaking, our legislature is independent of the executive branch of the government, but the administration has a say when it comes to the use of LegCo funds, given that the council is operating entirely on public funds.
According to the 2017/18 Appropriation Bill tabled by the financial secretary back in February this year, the annual budget for LegCo this year stands at HK$840 million, of which HK$550 million will be used to pay for daily operation costs and the salaries of employees of its secretariat.
Under current practice, if there is any budget surplus, it will be automatically transferred to LegCo’s own reserves.
Then the rest of the budget, about HK$280 million, will be used to pay for the monthly allowances and reimbursable expenses of the 70 lawmakers. However, unlike the HK$550 million, LegCo has to return any surplus from this segment to the government at the end of the financial year.
Since a total of six lawmakers have already been disqualified, it is almost certain that there will be surplus in the HK$280 million budget. And under the law, the administration has the right to demand full recovery of that money.
It is said that the Legislative Council Commission will be writing to the administration shortly to ask for its stand on the issue, and in particular, to find out whether it would insist on demanding full recovery of that surplus even if LegCo finally decides that it won’t require the disqualified lawmakers to pay all their salaries back.
True, LegCo may be totally independent of the executive branch in terms of scrutinizing laws, but it is not quite the case when it comes to spending money since the administration controls the purse strings of the legislature.
As such, it would be misleading for our CE to claim that her administration doesn’t have any say over this issue.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 15
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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