Lift pranks, filibusters all in a day's work at Legco
Delaying tactic by radicals to oppose the budget was nearly aided by what seemed to be practical jokes on three lawmakers
Tony Cheung and Colleen Lee
Two suspected pranks in the lifts of the legislature building yesterday almost added to a delay in budget debates, which are just starting to be dragged out by radical lawmakers' filibustering.
The plenary session could have been put off to next week, but three legislators who were held up in the lifts made it to the chamber each time to meet the quorum for the debate to go on.
Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said the hoax, if proven, could be a criminal offence. He requested "serious handling" of the reported incidents.
"I have asked the secretariat to handle it seriously," Tsang said. "If the person is found to be an assistant, I hope the lawmaker can also handle it seriously."
Legco convened on the second day of deliberations on the budget, proposed in late February, with the government stepping up its attack on filibustering.
Four radical politicians who were bent on challenging the bill because of its omission of universal pensions proceeded to only their second out of 148 planned debate sessions to discuss more than 700 amendments.
Professor Chan Ka-keung, secretary for financial services and the treasury, called for "a termination of the senseless, meaningless so-called filibuster". He slammed the radicals' speeches as "hardly relevant" to the bill.
Wong Yuk-man, Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats remained defiant, trying the whole time to force an adjournment by using quorum rules.
Under the rules, at least half of the 70 Legco members must be present for the meeting to continue. The session must stop if the quorum is not met within 15 minutes of a summons to return to the chamber.
By the time the meeting closed at 10pm - to be continued this morning - the four had demanded 35 summonses. Though the quorum was always met, the summonses delayed the proceedings for more than six hours.
At times, lawmakers returned to their seats with just seconds to spare. Suspected pranks hit Beijing loyalists Gary Chan Hak-kan, Yiu Si-wing and Paul Tse Wai-chun, who said the buttons for most floors were already activated as they entered the lifts.
Lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong said he believed Leung's assistant and "three youngsters" had used the lift before Chan and Yiu. Tsang said it was a criminal offence to try to stop lawmakers from attending a Legco meeting. Leung agreed to follow up on it.
In a rare show of support, Chan praised non-filibustering lawmakers who either stayed in the chamber or stood around in the building so they could be close enough to return every time a summons was called.
"They endured all this humiliation for their important responsibility and I have much respect for them," he said.
Legco began the day by endorsing a batch of budget plans not targeted by the filibusters. That was followed by the first of the 148 debates - a discussion on the budget of the chief executive's office that took up the next eight hours. Six amendments sought to cut the HK$94.5 million budget to different amounts.
The second debate, about funds for the Executive Council, continues today.
The four radicals dominated the session, going into detail about the history of various posts in the office, performance of the staff and integrity of Exco members.
Leung also said the government should "give in by setting up a HK$500 million seed fund for universal pensions". Chan Ka-keung said: "I don't know what [you mean by] giving in; this is just a delaying tactic and you can see we don't agree to that."