Legco bills panel in chaos as rival camps go separate ways

May 07, 2019 13:52
Abraham Shek (top, inset) moved the bills committee’s meeting to Saturday, but James To presided over the meeting as originally scheduled on Monday and was elected by the pan-dems as panel chairman. Photo: Bloomberg/HKEJ/RTHK

Chaos threatens to scuttle work at the Legislative Council's bills committee, which is deliberating on the government proposal to amend the extradition laws, after the two opposing camps insisted on presiding over the panel.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun presided over the committee’s first two meetings, held on April 17 and 30, on account of his being the most senior member of the panel.

But the pro-establishment lawmakers moved to have him replaced, accusing him of deliberately delaying the selection of its chairman.

Legco’s House Committee decided through a vote 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, in a special meeting held on Saturday. 

The committee then released a guideline on the decision, and the Legco Secretariat 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 pan-democratic camp accused the secretariat of overstepping its authority, and To asserted that he did not agree to the cancellation of the Monday bills meeting and would continue presiding over the meeting as planned.

But Shek said he now has the authority to preside over the meeting, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

He told media that the secretariat had, up until Monday noon, received written responses from 36 lawmakers supporting the move for him to replace To in presiding over the bills committee, while 24 were against To's replacement.

Shek also moved the bills committee’s meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Monday to 9 a.m. on Saturday.

He later issued a statement via the secretariat to announce the adoption of the guideline replacing To and the decision to reschedule the meeting to Saturday morning.

However, To still hosted the committee's meeting on Monday as originally scheduled even if it was boycotted by the pro-establishment lawmakers.

The pan-democratic lawmakers who were present at the meeting then elected To unanimously as the committee’s chairman and Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang as deputy chairman.

Kwok and his partymate Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu moved a non-binding motion at the meeting calling on the government to retract the bill and it was passed by all of the attendees, who also agreed that the House Committee’s guideline is not adopted.

During the meeting, pro-establishment lawmaker Eunice Yung Hoi-yan from the New People's Party marched to the meeting room and protested against the legitimacy of the meeting.

Yung stood in front of the chairman’s seat, shouted slogans and held a cardboard that read “This is not an official meeting!” in Chinese. Yung left after about seven minutes.

After the meeting ended, To scheduled the next one at 9 a.m. on Saturday, the same time as scheduled by Shek.

That means the bills committee will be holding two meetings at exactly the same time on Saturday morning.

To said he was not happy about the fact the secretariat did not provide any support for Monday’s meeting and therefore he will write to Kenneth Chen Wei-on, the secretariat's secretary general, to protest.

Noting that he will ask government officials to attend Saturday’s meeting, To stressed he may file a police report if anyone tries to prevent him from presiding over it.

Shek, on the other hand, told media that he is the only one that the secretariat will listen to, adding that he decided to reschedule the meeting to Saturday because a meeting requires a three-day notice in advance as is the usual practice, Legco has council meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, and he himself will also chair a Legco public accounts committee meeting on Friday.

Talking about the twin meetings scheduled for Saturday, lawmaker Martin Liao Cheung-kong, convenor of the pro-establishment camp in Legco, said Monday's meeting was nothing but a "gathering" of pan-democratic lawmakers and not a committee session as claimed.

Liao said only Shek has the authority to call a meeting of the bills committee and preside over the election of a chairman while the other one by the pan-dems was neither legitimate nor reasonable.

Even if two chairmen are elected separately at the two meetings, only one is official, he said.

To stressed in a radio program on Tuesday morning that he was legitimately elected as chairman of the bills committee.

He said the Legco Secretariat or the administration could possibly approach the court to confirm which chairman is legitimate.

Before attending the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called on opposition lawmakers to follow the guideline issued by the House Committee last Saturday.

Lam also said the Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu and the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah were scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to address public views about the proposed amendments to the extradition laws as well as reiterate the administration’s efforts and measures to allay public concerns.

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