Govt dead set on defusing all political bombs by July

March 11, 2019 11:03
Lawmakers only have four months left to scrutinize a number of controversial funding bills before the summer break starts in mid-July. Photo: Bloomberg

Our lawmakers are currently having a two-week break from their Wednesday council meetings while the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference are underway in Beijing.

This could just be “the lull before the storm”. There are only four more months left in the current legislative year, and the Legislative Council will have to scrutinize a number of controversial funding bills put forward by the government, particularly the request for money to carry out thorough studies on the highly contentious “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” project.

Even though the government has accepted the recommendations of the Task Force on Land Supply and stopped insisting on reclaiming 1,700 hectares of land east of the Lantau Island as initially proposed, the scaled-down plan still remains highly “inflammatory”.

As such, one can certainly expect rounds of fierce debates in the meetings of the Finance Committee in the days ahead.

On top of that, the Legco Public Works Subcommittee is currently examining the government’s HK$32.9 billion funding requests for the Kwu Tung North and Fanling North New Development Area works, which could turn out to be just as politically radioactive as the “Lantau Tomorrow Vision” proposal, since the projects are also being opposed by certain quarters.

According to a figure in the pro-establishment camp, the administration has already reminded them to finish the scrutiny of these funding bills and put them to the vote by mid-July before Legco begins its summer break.

The source explains that if these hotly disputed issues are allowed to drag on until October, when Legco resumes, the snowballing controversy surrounding these bills could jeopardize the prospects of the entire pro-establishment camp in the District Council elections scheduled for November this year.

If that scenario happens, the pan-democrats will certainly milk it for all it is worth, thereby seriously undermining not only the pro-government force but the administration itself.

There is also talk that in order to prepare for the long-drawn-out battles over these bills, the Finance Committee is considering calling extra meetings.

As far as the government is concerned, it will undoubtedly be in its interest to defuse all the political bombs before the Legco summer break.

That's because as the DC elections approach, the administration will certainly find it more difficult to bring pro-Beijing parties into line.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 4

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.