The government is hoping that its proposal to amend the extradition laws can be passed by the Legislative Council before the summer recess in July, but the bills committee that is handling it has yet to start work as lawmakers from opposite camps continue to wrangle over who should chair the panel.
The pro-establishment lawmakers accused Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who presided the first and second meetings of the committee, of delaying the selection of its chairman and wanted him replaced even though he is the most senior member of the committee.
The House Committee held a special meeting on Saturday to discuss their request to replace To with Abraham Shek Lai-him from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, who is the most senior pro-establishment lawmaker.
Despite clashes between the two camps, the meeting was able to approve the request with a 37-16 vote, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The House Committee then issued a non-binding guideline to ask the bills committee to follow the decision. The Legco Secretariat also issued a circular requiring members of the committee to respond in writing before Monday noon as to whether they agree to adopt the guideline.
The move angered the pan-democrats, who slammed secretary-general Kenneth Chen Wei-on of the Legco Secretariat for staging what amounted to a “coup” by handing control of the bills committee to their rivals.
In a joint statement, 23 pan-dems said the circular from the secretariat was not consented to by To in advance and it obviously overstepped its authority and should retract the circular.
The secretariat should be responsible for serving all lawmakers and do its job based on the overall benefits of the Legco instead of becoming the pro-establishment camp’s “political goons”, the pan-democrats said in the statement.
They said the secretariat has lost its neutrality and created the greatest administrative disgrace in the history of the legislature.
On the other hand, 40 pro-establishment lawmakers issued their own joint statement on Sunday, expressing their support for the secretariat’s move.
Rejecting the pan-dems’ accusations against him, Chen said in a letter to all lawmakers that the secretariat had been impartial and was making the arrangements to deal with an unprecedented situation.
He also said the secretariat was fulfilling its responsibility by writing to members of the bills committee to notify them of the guideline from the House Committee.
As the bills committee was scheduled to hold its third meeting on Monday afternoon, To insisted on Sunday that he would preside over the meeting and it is up to him to decide whether the committee should discuss the guideline about the move to replace him.
If anyone tried to oust him by force, that would only support the contention that the secretariat has lost its neutrality, To said.
He said in a radio program on Monday morning that he would not react violently if he is hindered from presiding over the bills committee meeting on Monday afternoon, but hoped the secretariat would allow a discussion of whether to adopt the guideline in the coming meeting.
He said he would try to avoid any conflict of interest, and let Leung Yiu-chung, the second most senior member of Legco, moderate such discussion.
However, Shek said later on Monday that he has been anointed as a replacement for To in presiding over a bills committee meeting and he decided to postpone the meeting to 9 a.m. on Saturday to elect a bills committee chairman.
He clarified that he did not decide on the meeting originally scheduled this afternoon, and that a meeting requires a three-day notice in advance, hence it will be held this Saturday.
To said he did not agree to the cancellation of the Monday meeting, and would continue presiding over the committee’s meeting.
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