The Legislative Council Commission has decided not to pursue its demand that four ousted pro-democracy lawmakers pay back the salaries and allowances they had received prior to their disqualification, saying it is not worthwhile to spend a huge amount of public money to achieve the purpose, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The four – Lau Siu-lai of Democracy Groundwork; “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats; Nathan Law Kwun-chung, chairman of the political party Demosistō; and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who represented the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency – were disqualified in July last year after the High Court ruled that their oath-taking in 2016 was invalid.
Their disqualification is effective from Oct. 12, 2016, the day the swearing-in ceremony for Legco members took place.
In November last year, the commission, which is in charge of Legco’s administrative affairs, decided that the four have to return a combined amount of nearly HK$12 million in salaries and operating allowances they earned during the period, ranging from HK$2.7 million to HK$3.1 million each.
Calling the decision absurd and refusing to abide by it, the disqualified lawmakers claimed they had served the public at Legco diligently, and as such, they should not be asked to return their salaries and allowances they had been paid in the months preceding the court’s decision.
Just last month, the government suggested the commission write off the bill if it fails to recover the money.
After members of the commission met on Wednesday to discuss the issue, Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who also chairs the commission, announced that it will no longer pursue the demand, after considering several factors, including the chances of successfully getting the money back.
As the legal cost of pursuing the claim was estimated to exceed HK$10 million, the commission decided it is better to use the public money prudently, Andrew Leung said.
Instead, the four disqualified lawmakers would have to meet three conditions. These are that they must return part of the advance of operating funds, estimated to be HK$1.01 million in total, as well as purchased items, such as mobile phones and laptop computers, and other prepaid expenses.
The Legco president stressed that the commission’s reversal of its earlier decision does not mean it is holding out an olive branch to the disqualified lawmakers but simply wants to be practical.
The commision will still demand the full amount through legal procedures if they cannot meet the three conditions, he added.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, a member of the commission, said it is definitely not wise for the commission to pay high costs to legally challenge the four since they can build a very strong defense, adding that writing off the amount as the government suggested is the most consistent with social expectations.
Meanwhile, both Lau and Leung Kwok-hung wanted the Legco to compensate their assistants for unpaid pay and benefits in July last year after they were disqualified.
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