Pan-dems won't stall special funding requests amid virus fight

February 18, 2020 17:05
The Hong Kong government will seek approval from the Legco's Finance Committee for a special financing package to support businesses and low-income groups amid the coronavirus crisis. Photo: Bloomberg

Last week, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled out a relief package worth an estimated HK$25 billion to support local businesses and low-income families hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. 

On Tuesday, speaking to reporters ahead of an Executive Council meeting, Lam said the relief package has swelled to nearly HK$28 billion following an assessment. The administration would seek approval for the funding from the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee this Friday, the chief executive said, adding that she hopes lawmakers will approve the funding as soon as possible.

Now, in order to implement her multi-billion dollar initiative, or the so-called “urgent money” to which Lam has referred to during last week's press conference, the government must table the entire funding package to the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee (FC) for discussion and vote.

Earlier, the Legco FC had seen filibusters mounted by the pan-democrats, who demanded that proposed salary increases for the police be detached from the pay adjustment program for civil servants and dealt with separately.

Committee chairman Chan Kin-por has already announced that he is going to call an eight-hour FC meeting on this Friday to scrutinize the relief package.

Tanya Chan Suk-chong, a Civic Party lawmaker who is also a convenor of the pro-democracy camp, said last week that given the emergency situation presented by the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic, she and her pan-dem colleagues agreed that the FC would hold an urgent meeting.

A pan-democratic lawmaker has said that they will raise many questions on the details of the coronavirus epidemic relief fund at the FC special meeting this Friday, but added that the bloc has no intention of deliberately stonewalling the funding request.

This pan-dem then went on to explain that since the FC chairman has already vowed that the special meeting on Friday will only deal with the one-off funding proposal, and nothing more, which is tantamount to opening up an “expressway” to fast-track its approval, there is definitely no justification for the pro-democracy camp to stand in the way.

He jokingly said that the Friday meeting may present a rare opportunity for the pro-establishment bloc and the pan-democratic camp to call a “truce”, under which Chan Kin-por, at least, may no longer have to tear his hair out dealing with the never-ending points of order raised by them.

Meanwhile, despite some carping that the chief executive may be trying to win the public's support by handing out cash to everybody, the proposed coronavirus epidemic relief package is widely welcomed by the pro-Beijing camp.

It is because as the government has come under fire for handling poorly the threat posed by the epidemic, many in the pro-establishment camp are getting increasingly worried that their election prospects in the upcoming Legco race in September could be further undermined.

A pro-establishment lawmaker has said bluntly that the bloc won’t go easy on government officials at the FC meeting on Friday, and that they are prepared to grill the administration on the details of the relief package, particularly on the deadline for giving out the subsidies.

The reason why lawmakers from the business community are deeply concerned about the potential bureaucracy and red tape in approving the subsidies is because they worry that many micro, small and medium enterprises might either go bust or slash jobs before they can get their hands on the “urgent money” given by the government.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 17

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/RC

Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.