Conspicuous by their ABSENCE

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:03pm


Hong Kong's Olympians may not be setting too many world bests at the London Games, but the city's Olympic chief has racked up a record of his own, albeit one he might not be keen to shout about.

Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, who is in London in his capacity as chairman of Hong Kong's Olympic Committee, has given up even bothering to account for his poor attendance record in the Legislative Council, where he represents the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector. Final figures for the last of his 14 years in Legco show that he had the lowest attendance rate of the 60 lawmakers at the regular Wednesday meetings of the council. It is hardly a surprise: Fok, who is also the Sports Federation chief, has been bottom of the table in each of the past seven years and for 10 of the 14 years he's served.

A request to Fok for a comment was rejected, with his spokesman saying he did not wish to say anything about his attendance rate, which improved marginally to 69 per cent for his final year in office. He will not seek re-election in September.

Back in 2009, Fok said that attendance records were 'too simple a tool to judge a lawmaker's performance'.

Fok, son of late tycoon Henry Fok Ying-tung, attended only 25 of the 36 Wednesday council meetings in the past year. The overall attendance rate by lawmakers was 97.45 per cent, up from 96.3 per cent last year.

The second worst attendance record was that of the chairwoman of the New People's Party, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who made it to 89 per cent of meetings. 'I occasionally go on overseas trips, and it's impossible to attain full attendance,' she said.

But the council's records show that more than half of Legco members did make it to every meeting, including the chairman of the Labour Party, Lee Cheuk-yan, the pan-democrat Wong Shing-chi and the financial services lawmaker Chim Pui-chung.

Fok also continued to top the no-show list in both the house and finance committees, beating the banking lawmaker David Li Kwok-po. His attendance rates were 32 per cent and 15 per cent of meetings respectively.

The House Committee is responsible for setting the agenda for the council and considers matters relating to its business, while the Finance Committee holds the purse strings, scrutinising and approving requests for public expenditure put forward by the administration.

Even though Fok represents Hong Kong's artists and performers, he only managed to make it to one in seven meetings of a committee discussing the controversial copyright amendment bill.

The bill, since shelved by the government, angered artists who feared it would criminalise works of satire, parody or tribute by extending the definition of copyright theft, which is only an offence now if it is done for profit or has a significant impact on the copyright holder.

The bill now lapses, and it will have to be tabled again if the new government of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying wants to press ahead with it, and a new bills committee will have a chance to study it - not that Fok will be part of it.

He never formally announced that he was giving up the job, but Fok did say on the last day of the legislative session last month that he 'may serve in another platform'. Sure enough, he was not among the three candidates who signed up to fight for the seat in the September 9 poll.

But the Lingnan University political scientist Dr Li Pang-kwong said the voters who kept on returning Fok should also bear their share of the responsibility for his poor performance.

'They have a role in Fok's sluggishness over his 14 years of tenure too, as they returned him to the seat,' Li said. 'Maybe their standard in picking lawmakers differs from that of the general public.'

Some legislators say a filibuster by radical pan-democratic Legco members that started in early May is to blame for their poor attendance records. The pan-democrats were hoping to derail a government bill to ban legislators who resign from running in by-elections.

A total of 1,300 amendments to the bill were tabled, more than 1,200 submitted by People Power Legco member Albert Chan Wai-yip, and the filibuster threatened to derail government's legislative agenda until Legco president Tsang Yok-sing controversially called a halt to the debate after 33 hours.

Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said: 'The filibuster left many committee meetings packed at the same 8.30am time slot.' It was impossible for her to attend all the meetings, she said.

Her attendance rates in bill committees on the residential properties (first-hand sales) bill and the legal practitioners (amendment) bill 2010 are 40 per cent and 33 per cent respectively, the worst of any committee members.

Legco members also said their schedules were often occupied by other political activities, making them unable to attend some council meetings. Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said: 'The [chief executive] election has disrupted my Legco business, and I joined too many bill committees as well.'

His attendance was the lowest in several committees, including bills committees on the companies bill and on the securities and futures (amendment) bill.

The figures for the year show that geographical constituency Legco members generally worked harder than their peers representing functional constituencies - showing up more often at council meetings as well as meetings of the finance and house committees, considered Legco's most important committees.

But Li said there was no likelihood of the functional constituencies disappearing any time soon.

'From the perspectives of Beijing and the stakeholders, the functional constituencies act as a balance to the geographical seats,' he said.

Under Legco's split voting system, motions put forward by members, but not those put forward by the government, must be approved by a majority of both the functional constituency members, who are chosen by a handful of electors, and the geographical members, who are elected by the public at large.

A case in point came in November last year, when Democratic Party Legco member Kam Nai-wai saw his amendment to Beijing loyalist Priscilla Leung Mei-fun's motion on improving the water quality in Victoria Harbour fail to pass through the functional constituencies for the want of just one vote, meaning it fell even though half of the 60-strong legislature's members voted in favour.

Members in the geographical constituencies voted 18-3 in favour, with six abstentions, while functional sector members voted 12-5 in favour. But because seven of the 24 functional constituency lawmakers present abstained, the motion was deemed not to have been passed by the majority.

If the vote had been treated in the same way as those on government motions, it would have passed 30-8, with 13 abstentions.

Part two: Voting records