Lawmakers approve budget, to government's relief

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 4:03am

The city's annual budget was passed in the Legislative Council last night by a safe margin after a month-long filibuster.

The long-awaited legislative approval ends the prospect of the government running out of cash to operate. Since the financial year started in April, it has been functioning on an interim fund of HK$75.5 billion.

Yesterday, 38 lawmakers voted for the appropriation bill and 16 against; one abstained.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the funds would be distributed as soon as possible, though money for hospitals and universities could be delayed slightly.

"We will speed up the remaining legislative, executive and accounting procedures," Tsang said. "The issue was filibustering; it has definitely affected [the appropriation schedule]."

The decisive third-reading vote took place at 7pm - hours ahead of schedule - aided by Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing's ruling to expel radical politicians "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats and People Power's Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen from the chamber. The trio had staged a rowdy protest against his decision to end debates generated by their filibustering within a government deadline.

While the pro-establishment camp backed the budget, their closing speeches reignited a debate on the stalling tactic.

Starry Lee Wai-king, a lawmaker from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the deliberate delays had weakened Legco's power to monitor the government. "It has paralysed Legco and demonstrated the tyranny of the minority," she said.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who did not take part in the filibustering, said it was a common tool to protect the minority's interests in the legislature. "We know filibustering can bring undesirable impacts to the city but it is not wrong. We will not use it easily, so we are against it this time."

Separately, former House Committee chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee suggested having a closure motion to end filibusters, instead of letting the Legco chief decide as he deemed fit. "[It was inappropriate of him] to end the filibuster last week just because the government had hinted at it."