Put politics aside on vital infrastructure projects

For too long, some lawmakers have resorted to filibustering to stall funding requests but the government is not without blame

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 12:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 December, 2016, 12:38am

Paul Chan Mo-po has called on lawmakers in the new legislature not to repeat their filibustering tactics as the government has 39 infrastructure projects worth HK$90 billion waiting for their approval.

Does the secretary for development seriously think the opposition would play ball on his say-so? Dangling such large numbers seems like an invitation for radical legislators to do their worst.

Indeed, there was much mindless filibustering in the last legislature. But the new government after next year’s chief executive election must offer something in return to show goodwill and earn public trust. If new officials including Chan’s replacement want to show good faith, they should revise the often spurious estimates for those infrastructure projects that underestimate costs and overestimate potential returns.

If the next administration offers more realistic estimates, our lawmakers should make better decisions in approving or scrapping those projects. The problem with filibustering is that it’s only a delaying tactic that refuses to commit to a decision. I agree with Chan that the new Legco needs to decide on those projects, but not to blindly approve them as he wishes. Lawmakers should show courage to reject those which have a good chance of becoming white elephants.

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The problem is that you have pro-establishment lawmakers who are used to rubber-stamping any revenue-generating projects proposed by the government for the construction and property industries. You have pan-democratic lawmakers – now add to them our new localists – who oppose anything the government proposes for opposition’s sake. And you have a government too used to fudging financial numbers to support its own projects.

In the current Legco, it’s more than likely that those who have the professional expertise to scrutinise infrastructure projects will not do so because of their ties to the industries’ special interests. But many new pan-democratic and localist lawmakers have neither the knowledge nor work experience to scrutinise those projects. That makes it irresistible for them to just oppose through delaying tactics like filibustering.

Chan is right that a polarised Legco has been part of the problem, but the government itself has been another part of the problem.

When both the executive and legislative branches lack public trust, it becomes something like “he says, she says”. It’s hard for the public to judge whether a mega-project is worth doing or just another bottomless money pit.