Government does U-turn on landfill plan
The government last night did an abrupt U-turn on the extension of the Tseung Kwan O landfill.
Instead of the extension into country park land starting next month it will start in January 2012. The move is an attempt to buy time to resolve a row with the legislature over the controversial plan.
The government's concession came hours after lawmakers vowed to press ahead with a motion to repeal a Chief Executive's order allowing the landfill to be extended into Clear Water Bay Country Park.
In a statement released at 10pm, Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said the postponement was due to legislators' demand for a thorough evaluation on the effectiveness of the measures to mitigate the bad odour problems.
He said the decision was made after detailed evaluation of the project's progress, as well as streamlining the construction procedure of the original plan. An official familiar with the issue said the move was intended to give the government more time to win support from members of the public and lawmakers for the proposed extension.
The official said the Department of Justice's legal opinion was that moving the commencement date was the only feasible concession the administration could make.
'We don't see the possibility of further postponement of the commencement date in future ... We hope lawmakers will appreciate our sincerity,' the official said.
The government maintained the argument that the Legislative Council has no power to repeal the Chief Executive's order to extend the landfill, the official said.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, chairwoman of a Legco subcommittee scrutinising an amendment to the Country Parks Ordinance, said despite the postponement, her party would maintain its opposition to the order.
'A delay of 14 months will not be enough to dismiss worries of the public, as the smell [from the dump] has stayed for 10 years,' she said. .
The gauntlet was thrown down after government lawyers said legislators had no power to reverse the order. But yesterday, Legco's legal adviser Ma Yiu-tim challenged the Department of Justice's grounds for such a claim, saying it was unconstitutional.
Lawmakers are proposing a resolution, supported by five political parties, to scrap the order issued by the chief executive that will cut five hectares off Clear Water Bay Country Park for the landfill extension.
Ma argues the resolution will not only be legally valid, but, furthermore, the chief executive will be legally bound to gazette it. This is despite the argument by government lawyers that even the chief executive himself cannot repeal his own order.
Before the resolution can be voted on in Legco next Wednesday, the council's president, Tsang Yok-sing, will have to rule on whether to allow the resolution to be introduced after considering the conflicting legal positions.
The legal opinions, prepared by former Attorney General Michael Thomas for the Department of Justice, have already touched a raw nerve. Lawmakers have deep-seated fears that their power to scrutinise legislations is being eroded.
'It is all about changing the rules of the game. Officials always play tricks by moving the goalposts. But this time, they won't do that, they just create a virtual goalpost that even we have scored, it doesn't count at all,' said legislator Ip Wai-ming, of the Federation of Trade Unions, after a special meeting to clarify the government's legal position.
Additional reporting by Amy Nip and Paggie Leung