Yaan earthquake

With filibuster, lawmakers play politics at others' expense

Jeffrey Lam says it's unconscionable for radical lawmakers to be holding up Legco business to the detriment of people's lives, just to make a point

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 3:31am

Radical lawmakers should stop their overdose of filibuster tactics, given that the harm they've done has already had a big impact on the government and people's livelihood. Before they launched their plan to delay the budget vote in the Legislative Council, the radicals had started filibustering to reject the government's request for HK$100 million to aid Sichuan earthquake victims, for fear the money would be siphoned off by corrupt officials.

That concern is understandable, given that President Xi Jinping has stressed the urgency of reining in official corruption, but it will take time to resolve. With Beijing now more aware of the need to strengthen control of the use of donated funds, a safeguard against the misuse of donations is likely to be established.

Besides, the majority of the HK$10 billion donated by Hong Kong five years ago to help victims of the massive Wenchuan quake, also in Sichuan, went to worthy causes such as education and health care. Seeing people still in desperate need of food, shelter and basic medical supplies, how can we delay the emergency funding merely because of concern about possible corruption? It is wrong to use filibustering for such a pressing issue.

The government's proposed budget is another bad choice for politicking. Radical lawmakers have little chance of achieving their goal and the potential harm of their act is too great.

This time, they are dissatisfied with the lack of a universal pension scheme in the budget. With 710 amendments to the government's proposed budget approved and 148 sessions of debate expected, the filibuster will result in a waste of time and money, not to mention the holding up of Legco procedures.

Given the unsatisfactory performance of the Mandatory Provident Fund and its problem of high fees and low returns, it is understandable that radical lawmakers want change. However, as there is no consensus on a universal pension fund, their action has little chance of success.

Most importantly, the budget controls funding for a range of government spending, and any delay in approval threatens a suspension of funding not only for public service workers like police officers, cleaners and teachers, but also for people who depend on normal government operations, including people on welfare benefits.

That was the case with the HK$2,200 old age living allowance. Passage of the plan in Legco was delayed for nearly two months because of filibustering. The allowance, an initiative by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, seeks to put cash in the hands of old people in need and has been welcomed by the public, so it is regrettable that a goodwill policy has turned into a political tussle, and society is the poorer for it.

As legislators, we should not oppose for the sake of opposing. The counterproductive actions of the radicals, who put politics ahead of livelihood issues, have provoked outrage. Eventually the reputation of the legislature will suffer. The pan-democrats, aware that their public image could be damaged given the people's anti-filibuster sentiment, have made a U-turn this time from their support for filibusters in the past. I have no intention of changing my view.

Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung is a legislative councillor in the commercial (first) functional constituency