Legco debate on govt funding request delayed for lack of quorum

March 20, 2020 15:14
Pan-democratic lawmakers are trying to stall Legco deliberations over a government funding request, as they oppose certain aspects of the end-use of the funds. Photo: RTHK news video/screenshot

A Legislative Council debate on a government funding request was disrupted on Thursday as a pan-democratic lawmaker used the “roll call” or quorum count strategy to halt the proceedings.

At the session, the Legco had been scheduled continue deliberations on a motion that would help clear interim funding for the government until the full budget proposals for the coming financial year are approved.

The government's motion came after Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said in his budget speech on Feb. 26 that the administration aims to seek nearly HK$215.9 billion to fund its services, with part of the amount to be allocated to the police force.

Increased budget allocation for the police has been a topic of controversy, with pro-democracy figures arguing that the police don't deserve extra funding given their poor handling of Hong Kong's 2019 mass protests that were set off by the government's extradition bill misadventure. 

Amid deep dissatisfaction over the police's track record, the opposition lawmakers have been trying on stall the funding.

On Thursday morning, as the Legco convened to discuss the matter, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, a pro-democracy lawmaker belonging to the Council Front group, spoke and then moved to adjourn the debate right after the meeting started.

Chu also demanded a roll call to check if there was a quorum.

While 35 lawmakers were needed for the meeting to proceed, the attendance in the house came in short.

Chu was the only pan-democrat present among all the pan-democratic lawmakers when he called for a quorum count, suggesting that the others had deliberately stayed away.

Also, 13 pro-establishment lawmakers failed to return to the chamber in time, resulting in the lack of quorum.

The meeting was then called off about 30 minutes after it started, although Legco President Andrew Leung Kwan-yue resumed it at 11 am.

Chu argued that if the funding request is passed, it would allow the police to boost its manpower and resources, throwing up the prospect of further strong-arm tactics against citizens.

Describing the government’s 2020-21 Budget as one aimed for an “army expansion”, lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen from the pro-democracy People Power said he will definitely vote against it.

Alice Mak Mei-kuen, a pro-establishment lawmaker from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said if the pan-democratic camp is not satisfied with the government’s request for funding, it should challenge Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor over the matter, rather than indulge in filibustering in the Legco and make the grassroots citizens suffer.

Mak slammed the pan-democratic lawmakers, accusing them of only knowing how to get meetings adjourned and engaging in endless filibustering.

Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Henry Lau Jr said in the Legco meeting that he hoped lawmakers would object to Chu’s motion for adjournment, which he claimed will affect the government’s operations and would not be in the public interest.

He said the funding request was only aimed at allowing the government to fulfill its duty to offer services to the public.

Pro-establishment lawmakers made it clear that they opposed adjournment of the debate, yet no vote for the motion was held as of 6:30 pm when the session ended.

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TL/JC/RC