Rail funding may still be delayed even if lawmakers vote today
Anita Lam and Gary Cheung
Funding for the HK$66.9 billion express rail link to Guangzhou may still face delay even if the legislature's Finance Committee passes it today.
A lawmaker is planning to lodge a judicial review against the outcome of the voting in the event of any procedural mistakes during the discussion.
The funding debate has already been delayed twice and today's session has been set down for six hours.
Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats, who said earlier that he would attempt to delay the funding with his colleagues Leung Kwok-hung and Wong Yuk-man, spent hours last night studying the wording of their questions in order to avoid repetition.
The committee's rules state that its chairwoman has no right to stop lawmakers from asking questions. However, Emily Lau Wai-hing can ban those that are irrelevant or those that are repeated.
Lau said: 'When I see the queue [of lawmakers posing questions] getting smaller and smaller, I will ask if anyone still has questions. I will give them time, but after that maybe that's it, but I will not be so rigid [to say you cannot ask any more questions].'
Chan said a question had many different aspects and he would watch closely to see if any procedures were breached in the debate - such as that his right to speak was being forfeited.
'I will not hesitate to file a judicial review on Monday or Tuesday and seek an injunction over the funding if there is any procedural error concerning the debate and the voting.'
The Court of First Instance usually grants a hearing within days in cases of pressing public interest such as this one.
Opponents can also challenge the validity of a vote before announcement of the voting outcome. Doubts were raised earlier on whether several lawmakers supporting the link had any conflict of interest in the project, which would bar them from casting votes.
Today's meeting will be a big challenge for Lau, facing her allies from the pan-democratic camp, and government-friendly lawmakers who have threatened to oust her if the voting fails to go ahead this time.
Today's meeting can continue tomorrow for another six hours. But many government-friendly lawmakers believe 12 hours is still an underestimation, and have demanded 30 hours spanning today and tomorrow.
One official questioned Lau's decision not to set a longer time for the debate despite all the uncertainties, and her decision that the meeting can only be extended if everyone agrees.
'Paragraph 45 of the Finance Committee's procedures states that 'all matters' of the committee shall be decided by a majority of the voting members,' the official said.
But Legco secretary general Pauline Ng Man-wah said 'all matters' excluded timing and duration of the meeting.
'Unlike other Legco panel meetings, the decision made by this committee has a binding effect, so we don't want to deny any lawmakers the chance of attendance,' she said.
But Lau said no lawmaker had been asking questions indefinitely so far.
'If a lawmaker has asked 23 questions, maybe you can say he's asking indefinitely. But now the maximum number of questions being asked by an individual is only four, I think the public will judge fairly.'
According to the Legco secre- tariat's data, many legislators asked only two questions during the two previous meetings.
Ten lawmakers are still queuing for their turns to pose questions when the debate resumes at 3pm today.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen called for a vote by tomorrow, if not today, saying that the project had the consent of the majority.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party conducted separate polls in the past few days and both found that more than 70 per cent of respondents support construction of the link.