Back-up plans mulled as government wises up after budget filibuster

Back-up plans will be in place to deal with delaying tactics as administration wises up to the risks of delays, treasury chief says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 June, 2013, 5:13am

Contingency plans to tackle filibusters on the budget will be lined up after the tactic stalled government funding this year, Professor Chan Ka-keung says.

He said yesterday he had feared during the four-week debate in the Legislative Council that the administration could run out of money before the bill was cleared on May 21.

And a month on, the secretary for financial services and the Treasury remained candid about his disapproval of filibustering, which he labelled "pointless".

Chan said the government now was "armed with better knowledge" to handle any future fiscal crises.

"From the outset, we did not want the filibustering; it was pointless," he said. "But you have to think about that for the future. We must set out some contingency plans after the next budget is prepared."

The appropriation bill was tabled in mid-April but faced 710 amendments, filed mostly by four pan-democrats to demand a universal pension scheme and HK$10,000 cash handouts.

Lawmakers vetoed all the amendments and passed the bill on May 21, days after the government's May 15 deadline. It was the first time the budget bill was delayed by a filibuster. During that period, the government operated on an interim fund of HK$75.5 billion.

Chan, a key official behind Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in the filibustering battle, conceded the government would not have exhausted its finances until this month. But the uncertainty made them uneasy as they were not in control.

"We could not sit and wait until the budget was passed magically on June 1. Someone could simply request a quorum call and the [Legco] session would end - and we would have had to wait for another week."

Chan said he had feared the government might fail to make more payments by June; in fact, it was on the brink of triggering a list of plans as the debate went into early May.

It had told the Hospital Authority and the University Grants Committee to be ready for delays in their funding.

Having served in government since 2007, Chan said he did not feel the new administration under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was more difficult. "It is fair to say we are trying to face some tough issues squarely," he said. "But none of the policies will please everybody."