The Legislative Council bills committee that was due to deliberate on the proposed changes to the extradition laws has been unable to get down to the task, leaving the government with no choice but to bypass the panel and take the bill straight to the full council, a senior minister said on Monday.
At a press conference, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the bills committee “has not been able to operate properly”, pointing out that it has not been able to elect a chairman even after two meetings on April 17 and 30, which were presided over by Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun.
Lee said the bills committee had lost its ability to scrutinize the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 tabled by the government to the Legco on April 3, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The official said he cannot see any way out of the current impasse for the government other than making a difficult decision to skip the bills panel review and put the matter before all lawmakers in the House, given that legislation has to be effected within a set period once the process begins.
Lee told reporters that he had on Monday issued a letter to Starry Lee Wai-king, chairman of Legco’s House Committee, asking for a second reading of the bill to be resumed on June 12.
The security chief claimed that the move was based on the Rule 54(5) of the Legco’s Rules of Procedure.
Lee admitted that the move to take the bill straight to the full council prior to the House Committee’s decision was not ideal, but argued that it was the only option under the circumstances, where the bills committee was not functioning.
The minister noted that lawmakers can still express their opinions and propose amendments to the bill and try to resolve matters during the second reading process.
A government source told HKEJ that the government believes the chaos seen in the bills committee will persist and therefore it took the initiative to request the House Committee to resume second reading of the bill.
The sources added that it is hard to anticipate whether there would be sufficient time for the bill to be passed before the legislature takes its annual summer recess in July, as there will be only one month left after the second reading.
Meanwhile, Starry Lee revealed that she has received the letter from the government, and that the House Committee is scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting scheduled for Friday.
She has asked members of the panel to submit their opinions before 5 pm Tuesday on how the bills committee should proceed.
Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen noted that the government is entitled to decide on when to put a bill to second reading.
Chairpersons of 18 District Councils said in a joint statement on Monday that they hope to see rational discussions over the bill at the full council as soon as possible.
As for the Taiwan authorities’ clear stance that they will not seek extradition, under the proposed amendments, of a Hong Kong man accused of killing his girlfriend in Taipei last year, John Lee stressed the government will be making every possible effort to let Taiwan understand that the amendments are aimed to offer the assistance which the island has asked for at a very early stage.
The security chief noted that “different people have been expressing different opinions about the government bill. There are those who support and there are those who disagree.”
“It is every person’s right to express their view,” the official said, adding that the central government has supported the Hong Kong administration to “go ahead with the matters that are in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong.”
Beijing’s Liaison Office held a meeting last Friday with Hong Kong delegates of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and local deputies of the National People’s Congress.
Claudia Mo Man-ching, convener of the pan-democrats’ meeting group of lawmakers, said the government’s move to bulldoze the bill through the Legco was an attempt to sideline the due process.
The opposition will write to the House Committee to voice their opposition to the move, Mo said, , according to public broadcaster RTHK.
Speaking to media before attending a weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Beijing has every reason to make its position clear, given that foreign governments had raised concerns over the mainland’s judicial system and also “one country, two systems”,
In other comments, Lam said she believes the relationship between the executive and the legislature will not be affected by the government’s moves in relation to the extradition bill.
Lam stressed that she will continue to attend Legco question-and-answer sessions even though she had been “insulted” and “rudely treated” by some lawmakers during some recent meetings.
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