Up to radical lawmakers to solve crisis, says John Tsang
Finance chief meets lawmakers in budget bill filibuster to discuss their demands, but says the ball's in their court. They say he lacks sincerity
The budget bill filibuster is set to continue for a 10th day on Monday, after a fruitless meeting between the finance chief and radical lawmakers last night.
After the meeting, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said it was up to the four lawmakers behind the filibuster to resolve the matter. He said an emergency meeting would be held on Thursday to draw up contingency plans to keep the government from being hamstrung.
"The meeting was disappointing," Tsang said. "I came in with a lot of sincerity, hoping that they would understand that what they are doing is affecting people's livelihoods, but they were not willing to accept my explanation that I cannot use the budget as a negotiating instrument."
People Power lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip, Wong Yuk-man and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, filed more than 700 amendments to the budget bill, demanding a universal cash handout of HK$10,000 or a consultation on a universal pension scheme.
The government has warned public services and one-off poverty relief measures could be stalled if the budget bill is not passed by Wednesday.
Albert Chan was equally disappointed after the meeting, saying Tsang lacked sincerity and merely repeated himself.
Separately, Tsang said that in the 40-minute meeting in his office with three of the four lawmakers, he had tried to persuade them to drop their amendments and end the filibuster. Wong did not attend. "We showed sincerity, otherwise we wouldn't have met … and I explained in detail why their demands won't work," Tsang said.
An interim fund will sustain government spending to the end of the month in the absence of the new budget, but Tsang said he would not consider anything further.
The Treasury Department has cash-flow analyses from departments and will hold an internal meeting to draw up plans to "minimise the effects" should the government run out of money.
Tsang denied he was under pressure to take a tough stance after stern words from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who said on Thursday it was "extremely inadvisable" to cave in to their demands.
He also rejected the suggestion that the government was counting on Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing to invoke powers to halt the filibuster.
Pressure continues to mount on Jasper Tsang to end the filibuster next week, with 35 Beijing-loyalist lawmakers signing a petition calling for him to take action.
One of those, Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: "If the legislature cannot deal with this effectively … public services could be put on hold, and it will seriously harm people's welfare." Five Liberal Party lawmakers refused to sign the petition.