Govt refuses to intervene in Legco row over extradition bill

May 15, 2019 14:32
The administration said lawmakers need to iron out their differences internally. Photo: Bloomberg

The administration has refused to intervene in the row between pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp at the Legislative Council bills committee, which is handling the controversial proposal to amend the extradition laws, saying the matter is an internal procedural issue of the legislature.

But Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, accompanied by Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, told a press conference on Tuesday that the government welcomes any opportunity to discuss with any party the Fugitive Offenders & Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

“If they want to discuss the issue itself, the bill itself, I stand ready. My door is always open, we are ready to listen, we are ready to exchange views, and if there are any constructive ideas which we can adopt, we stand ready to consider them,” Cheung said.

However, Cheung stressed that Legco members need to iron out their differences internally.

“If the talk is about the internal procedure of the [Legco], which is the issue at the moment, arguing about who should be the chairman, not the substance of the bill, not the content of the bill, then it will be inappropriate for the administration, for the executive authorities to intervene in what is essentially an internal procedural issue of the legislature,” he said.

The chief secretary was reacting to a proposal by Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun for a tripartite meeting in which representatives of the pan-democrats, the pro-establishment camp and the government will try to find a way to break the current deadlock at the bills committee.

Cheung also said the government will neither retract the bill nor divide it into several parts, reiterating that the bill must be passed before the legislature takes its annual summer recess in July.

The committee is time-constrained and it would be a pity if it ended up unable to function, he added.

Efforts to start deliberation on the proposal have reached an impasse as the pro-establishment and pan-democrat lawmakers tried to hold separate meetings of the bills committee, each insisting that their side is the rightful body to handle the task.

Calling Cheung’s remarks “embarrassing”, lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, convener of the pan-democrats' meeting group of lawmakers, slammed the government for pretending “the whole thing is a legislative issue and it's got nothing to do with the Hong Kong people's or the universal distrust and lack of confidence in the Chinese judiciary,” RTHK quoted Mo as saying.

To said Cheung’s response shows that the administration is “burying its head in the sand”.

Chaos erupted between pro-establishment and pan-democrat lawmakers as they held parallel meetings in the same conference room on Saturday.

Parallel meetings called by the two sides again resulted in pandemonium on Tuesday.

Abraham Shek Lai-him from the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong called off the bills committee meeting of the pro-establishment camp within 18 seconds after he announced its start. 

The pan-democrat lawmakers’ meeting also ended early, in less than an hour.

To said even if the government refuses to retract the bill, there is still plenty of room for discussions, adding that he hopes the tripartite meeting can be held in the next seven to 10 days.

He said he is ready to recuse himself from the bills committee if the authorities find his status as chairman divisive.

Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen expressed his wish to see both camps meet and come up with a solution, saying he is willing to mediate in any meetings to resolve the deadlock.

Martin Liao Cheung-kong, convener of the pro-establishment camp at the Legco, said the door for negotiations is always open but representatives from both sides must make a decision, otherwise, it would just be a waste of time.

Former Legco president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai said she does not think holding a tripartite meeting would be of any help, saying the impasse should be resolved in Legco according to procedures.

Based on the rules of procedure, Fan said, the entire Legco could discuss the bill, although such a situation is not ideal.

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