A filibustering bid on the budget bill by radical lawmakers could be halted by the middle of next month, with Legislative Council chief Jasper Tsang Yok-sing warning that he will act to ensure the legislature runs smoothly.
Senior government officials also warned in letters to Tsang and secretary general Kenneth Chen Wei-on that the bill must be passed in time to avoid "public services being seriously disrupted and the public sector being rendered inoperable". The bill is facing over 200 debates from 710 amendments filed by radical pan-democrats in protest against the omission of a universal pension scheme from the budget.
The debates began last night after the second reading.
People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip, one of those involved in the filibustering, yesterday said he expected the debates could be brought to an abrupt halt by Tsang around May 10, with voting procedures completed before May 20. For the first time, Tsang has rearranged the agenda sequence so that voting on all 710 amendments comes after the debates are finished.
Chan said the move clears the way for Tsang to halt the debates - a claim the Legco president swiftly denied. "Halting the debates is not among my considerations," Tsang said. "But if, as we proceed, the operation of the council is severely disrupted, I will take appropriate measures."
The idea of stopping the debates was welcomed by New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing.
And Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah yesterday said the welfare of Hong Kong people was being "held ransom" by the filibuster. "More provisional appropriation will not help if the filibuster does not end," he said.
The finance chief sent a letter to Tsang last Thursday opposing the filibuster, saying the economic and social consequences for the city of a delay to the bill's passage through Legco could not be overstated.
And in a letter to Chen on Friday, the financial services secretary, Professor Chan Ka-keung, urged the legislature to pass the bill by the middle of next month, saying any undue delay "is clearly not in the public interest". "Failure to secure the passage of the bill in a timely manner would pose a real and intolerable threat to the continued operation of the government, Legco and the judiciary," he wrote.