23 October 2018
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What’s behind the move to change Legco rules of procedure?

During a recent media interview, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the existing Legco rules of procedure have failed to keep abreast of the latest political developments in Hong Kong, and the proposed amendments put forward by the pro-establishment camp were aimed at removing some of the outdated meeting rules.

Only by reviewing and amending the rules of procedure, Lam said, can Legco be truly able to keep abreast of the times.

Apparently, our CE is eagerly siding with the pro-Beijing camp on this issue. However, in my opinion, both her gesture and remarks regarding her endorsement of the pro-Beijing camp’s initiatives were, if anything, a perfect recipe for a PR disaster.

First, it is extremely inappropriate for Lam to comment on the internal affairs of Legco in her official capacity as chief executive.

It is because, under the Basic Law, our legislature is not only entirely independent of the executive branch but also, constitutionally speaking, serves as a leverage against government power, provides oversight of the government, and if need be, impeaches the chief executive.

As such, our CE shouldn’t have publicly weighed in on the internal affairs of Legco in order to avoid public suspicions about government interference in our legislature.

Second, Lam’s arguments for changing the existing Legco rules were also both weak and flimsy when she claimed that the legislature’s meeting rules have failed to “keep abreast with the times”, and therefore should be amended accordingly.

Let’s take one of the key proposals submitted by the pro-Beijing camp as an example: it suggests that the threshold for presenting a petition to the council be raised, from the current practice of requiring the endorsement of 20 lawmakers, to 35.

Once the amendment is passed, it would make it a lot more difficult for the pan-democrats to conduct independent inquiries into controversial issues in which the public interest is at stake.

How could anybody call our parliamentary rules “keeping abreast of the times” when the oversight powers of the legislature are being undermined?

Likewise, I just don’t see how the Legco meeting rules could keep abreast of the times in a better way by tightening the restriction on the number of motions lawmakers can move and limiting the time they can speak during meetings of the Legco financial committee.

The truth is, what the amendments proposed by the pro-Beijing camp and endorsed by our CE were actually intended to do is to guarantee passage of government bills and turn our legislature into a rubber stamp.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 11

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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