Pro-establishment lawmakers should let sleeping dogs lie

The decision to demand disqualified legislators repay millions in salaries and allowances will only serve to open up a legal can of worms

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 1:54am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 November, 2017, 1:54am

The legislature, led by government-friendly lawmakers, is demanding repayment of HK$2.7 million to HK$3.1 million in salaries, allowances and expenses from four disqualified opposition legislators.

It may be overreaching, and is opening itself to serious legal challenges from the four – “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim.

Legco demands 4 ousted lawmakers return up to HK$3.1 million each

Even loyalist lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, has admitted the Legco decision is based on shaky legal ground. “In terms of fairness, the court may well look on it differently … meaning Legco risks losing in court,” he told TVB News.

The loyalist bloc wants it both ways. It wants to claw back as much money as possible from the four. But it insists that all the in-house work and voting records of the four up to the court decision to disqualify them in July are valid.

Understandably, neither the bloc nor the government, perhaps even the opposition, wants to go back to re-examining and voting again on all the bills and meetings in which the four had taken part. They could face a legislative minefield as there are no precedents.

But if the four were no longer legislators from the time they failed to swear properly their oaths of office in October last year, how could their subsequent voting records be upheld?

Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen claims the two issues are separate: voting records are covered by local laws but lawmakers’ salaries are dealt with by an interpretation of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee last November.

Disqualified lawmakers may not have to repay full salaries

Should there be a legal challenge, it remains to be seen how the court would interpret this crucial point. In any case, the president is partly to blame. He allowed the four to retake their oaths and had them recognised before the NPCSC decision was laid down and the subsequent court judgment that was partly based on that decision.

This makes the four’s situation different from that of Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, who were the first to be disqualified and were never allowed to retake their oaths.

The loyalist bloc is in a sweet spot with a temporary clean majority. It may want to bankrupt those four so they can’t run again. But is it worth all the trouble when the opposition can always come up with candidates much more extreme than those four?