Legco should stop the farce and get to work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 2:51am

The public can be excused for being outraged as the legislature degenerates into a political circus. Just a week into the tiring tactic of filibustering, mounted by a handful of rebel lawmakers, the scrutiny of bills has been suspended, panel sessions disrupted and meetings aborted due to insufficient attendance, while hours are spent counting quorums and some play pranks in lifts to delay attendance. More importantly, tax rebate and relief measures worth of billions of dollars are being held up and government departments risk running out of cash if the budget cannot be passed within the next 10 days. The farce has gone to the extreme.

This is not the first time some Legco members have stalled the process with countless amendments and motions. Last year, the same tactic was used to block or force changes to government restructuring, the old-age allowance and an unpopular by-election law. Arguably, there is nothing wrong in pursuing one's political course within the rules of the game. But what is permissible in Legco may not necessarily be acceptable to the people. The 700-plus amendments, despite having been squeezed into 148 debate sessions, may take as many as 80 working sessions to clear. Even if members just vote on the amendments without debate, it will still take more than 20 hours. Clearly, there is a limit to how far things can go.

Amid growing public discontent, the rebels have offered to scale down the stunt and hope officials will negotiate with them. Whether or not the olive branch will be well received by the government remains unclear. The filibuster by the League of Social Democrats and People Power is intended to push the government to introduce a universal old-age pension scheme. But officials remain non-committal and show no sign of compromise. As time goes by, what the rebels advocate is increasingly weakened by finger-pointing across the chamber. A retirement pension is a laudable goal; but there is no need to bundle it with the budget vote.

President Tsang Yok-sing is under growing pressure to break the impasse when Legco resumes on Wednesday. Last year, he invoked a special power to kill the marathon debate on the by-election bill. Until there is a consensus to tighten the rules, the right of members to speak should not be unduly curbed. That said, such a right should be exercised in a responsible way. The prevailing public sentiment suggests it's time for lawmakers to stop filibustering and get on with real business.