Lawmakers should have fought for more resources

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 February, 2012, 12:00am


The Legislative Council subcommittee that examined the controversial proposal to nearly double the pay of lawmakers - from HK$73,150 to HK$141,000 a month - has shelved the idea after a public outcry.

The withdrawal has exposed an underlying motive: lawmakers changed their minds to protect their personal interests. If they really wanted to improve the system to pave the way for the city's democratisation, they would have insisted on continuing with the debate to come up with a better mechanism to decide on legislators' pay.

In this light, it's ridiculous for some media organisations to praise Emily Lau Wai-hing, who heads the subcommittee on members' remuneration, for being decisive by requesting that members shelve the proposal.

Furthermore, some in the media said it was unfair to criticise functional constituency members for not being up to scratch, and thus not deserving of a huge pay rise. They said not all functional constituency members were incapable, and cited Cheung Man-kwong of the education sector as an example.

Let's not evaluate here whether he has been a capable legislator. The fact that he belongs to a functional constituency goes against the principles of the Democratic Party, of which he is a member. No matter how well they perform, functional constituency members do not deserve to have their pay pegged to that of bureau secretaries. Trade seats are a by-product of the British colonial era and members are undemocratically elected. They are there to serve the public, nothing more. And because it is a public duty, they shouldn't be paid excessively.

But there is an urgent need to raise the pay and benefits of directly elected full-time legislators so they can conduct proper community work and facilitate the democratisation process.

Instead of giving in to public pressure on their pay rise, legislators should have tried to secure more resources to improve the pay and working conditions of their assistants and district staff. It's obvious that they wanted only to improve their own lot, and not to fight for a better system for all.

Until all legislators are directly elected full-time lawmakers, we shouldn't talk about raising their pay. But we should liberally boost their operating expenses, especially money spent on running district offices and hiring staff. Before we can enhance the pay mechanism, this is the best stop-gap measure to help attract young political talent and qualified people to work in Legco.

At present, with the abysmal resources available, there is no way directly elected full-time lawmakers can do their district and community work properly. The lack of resources is seriously affecting the quality of their Legco work, and hence their general performance.

It's a vicious cycle: without proper resources, they can't conduct thorough policy research and thus will continue to give a mediocre performance; and because of their poor performance, the public doesn't think they deserve a raise.

If one wants respect, one must earn it. On the pay issue, members unanimously agreed to give themselves a huge rise. Unfortunately, the general perception was that they were only doing it for themselves.

We can't condone this kind of behaviour in Legco. If we want to attract political talent into the chamber, we must make sure the council is the type of place to attract good people. First and foremost, legislators must set a good example.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.