Bill delay may force bodies to raid their own reserves
Some government department and publicly funded bodies may have to dip into their own reserves to maintain necessary services next month if the Legislative Council fails to pass the budget bill by the middle of this month.
A government source said Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah sent an e-mail to ministers on Tuesday asking them to provide an analysis of cash flow at their policy bureaus next month.
A similar e-mail was sent by Permanent Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Elizabeth Tse Man-yee to heads of government departments on Tuesday.
The debate on the budget bill is being dragged out by filibustering by radical pan-democratic lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats and People Power. In five days of deliberations so far, Legco has cleared only four out of 148 expected debate sessions on the budget.
An interim fund of HK$75.5 billion can sustain government spending until the end of this month.
On April 19, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung wrote to the Legco secretariat urging it to pass the budget bill by the middle of this month. He said any undue delay in its passage "is clearly not in the public interest".
The source said if legislators failed to vote on the budget bill by the middle of this month, Tse would call an emergency meeting with heads of government departments to take stock of which services and initiatives must be maintained next month.
"We will draw up a contingency plan under this scenario," the source said. "Some government departments, publicly funded bodies like the Hospital Authority and schools may have to dip into their own reserves to maintain their services which can't be delayed."
The source said the administration had floated the contingency plan in an attempt to let pro-establishment legislators know what it was planning to cope with further filibustering.
Some government-friendly lawmakers have complained that government officials have been sitting idly while the filibustering goes on.
Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said last week that he might merge all remaining debates into one session, or impose a limit on how long each session could last.