Lack of quorum delays Legco budget debate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 6:10pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 6:38pm

The sixth day of a marathon budget debate on Thursday was adjourned shortly after it resumed because not enough lawmakers were present to make up the quorum necessary to continue.

Lawmakers will try to meet again on Monday with Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Chan Ka-keung warning on Thursday that delaying the passage of the budget bill could mean holding up one-off poverty relief measures for the poor, some of which were originally scheduled to roll out in July.

“It is a pity that these measures, which are popular with the people, could not be scrutinised by Legco because of the [filibuster],” Chan said.

“We have to win support for the budget first, and then seek approval from Legco’s finance committee, before we can [roll them out]. Delaying the budget bill means all these procedures are delayed as well.”

An interim fund of HK$75.5 billion can sustain government spending until the end of this month.

The budget was originally scheduled to be passed by May 15.

Dismissing pan-democrats’ claim that the administration could table another interim funding proposal to avoid it being hamstrung, Chan said another interim proposal would only cover regular government spending, not new or one-off measures.

In the budget announced by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in February, he promised one-off poverty relief measures, such as an extra month’s allowance for more than a million recipients of social security, old age and disability allowances, as well as an electricity subsidy for 2.5 million households, worth HK$1,800 each.

Under the debate rules, at least half of the 70 lawmakers must be present for a Legco meeting to continue, and the session must stop if the quorum is not met within 15 minutes of a summons to return to the chamber.

Four radical lawmakers succeeded in forcing an adjournment by using the rule on Thursday morning, as only 32 lawmakers, including 21 pro-government lawmakers and 11 pan-democrats, made it to the chamber within the summons period.

Thirty eight members were absent for various reasons, the most common one voiced being traffic jams. All seven members of the Beijing-loyalist Business and Professionals Alliance were absent, five of whom were in a meeting and two were caught in traffic.

New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun said he was late because of family matters, “I feel ashamed, and I apologise to the citizens of Hong Kong.”

The debate delay actually helped the filibuster campaign of the four radical lawmakers who have filed more than 700 amendments to the budget bill in protest again its omission of a universal pension scheme.

They will now have a longer weekend break before resuming their filibustering on Monday.