Legislators should legislate new rules for themselves

Endless filibustering and tedious quorum counts are getting in the way of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council conducting the people’s business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:01pm

When the legislature is bogged down by meaningless headcounts and filibustering, and when passage of government bills and funding proposals becomes the exception rather than the norm, something is clearly amiss. Regrettably, the problems with the Legislative Council continue to worsen without any sign of abatement.

With the controversial bill to revamp the Medical Council and two other legislative proposals still in the queue, lawmakers will meet for the last time in a three-day sitting beginning today. To avoid further procrastination, we appeal to members from across the political spectrum to discharge their duties responsibly.

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More importantly, some serious soul searching is needed as the current legislative term comes to an end. There is little doubt that the past four years were the worst of times for Legco. Take the use of quorum counts as a delaying tactic as an example. The number of counts jumped from 191 in 2012-13 to more than 500 in 2015-16. Council meetings were forced to end prematurely on 18 occasions because of insufficient members present.

It does not take a political expert to tell that the time forgone could have been used to achieve a lot more. Each time a headcount is called for, the bell has to ring for 15 minutes to summon members back to the chamber. Since 2012, more than 214 hours – or nine days in total – have been wasted as a result of an individual lawmaker’s bid to thwart the business on the agenda. Indeed, Legco’s image has been undermined ever since the first banana was hurled across the chamber. Its operational efficiency suffers further when filibusters intensify. The recent abuse of headcounts by both opposition and pro-government members just takes the absurdity to the next level. This is not helped when the house rules are so liberal and that members often do not sit through meetings.

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It can be argued that lawmakers would not have to resort to such tactics if they were given a bigger say in policymaking. The growing tension with the government may also add to the problem. The current electoral system also gives room to those campaigning on the extreme.

At stake is not just Legco’s image and credibility. Unless the legislature discharges its constitutional duties efficiently, effective governance cannot be achieved. The new Legco should consider amending the rules of procedures to enhance operational efficiency.