Legco's Finance Committee defers votes on landfill extensions
Finance Committee endorses motions to adjourn debate on funding for Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling landfill extensions amid growing opposition
Discussion of what officials say are urgently needed extensions to two of Hong Kong's landfills ended abruptly yesterday when legislators decided to defer scrutiny of them.
They did so to give environment officials time to reconsider their plans and consult affected communities.
The deferral by Legco's Finance Committee of plans for the Tuen Mun and Ta Kwu Ling dumps was the second blow to the government. Officials withdrew a similar plan to extend the Tseung Kwan O landfill from Legco's public works subcommittee last month amid strong opposition.
Motions moved by Liberal Party chief James Tien Pei-chun to adjourn the government's requests for HK$35 million for a study of the Tuen Mun extension and HK$7 billion for work at Ta Kwu Ling were passed narrowly by the Finance Committee.
Tien said given the controversy, discussion should be postponed so that the government could have more time to talk to different parties.
After the meeting, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said he was disappointed. "All three landfill extensions are necessary and urgently needed," he said. "We will resubmit them at an appropriate time."
It was not immediately known when the two items could return for scrutiny but it is unlikely to happen before lawmakers return from their summer break . Two more committee meetings are scheduled before the break.
Committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said six days' notice would be required before the items could be resubmitted unless he granted exemption.
"I will see if the government can convince me … it cannot wait three more months," he said. Some lawmakers said the items should not go back to the committee until October when the legislature resumes sitting.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said they should be shelved until concrete proposals could be put forward in the chief executive's January policy address and money committed in the government's next budget for an overall waste strategy.
The environment minister has said that without extension the three landfills will fill up one by one from 2015.
The main opposition to Tien's motion came from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which was the target of attacks from other lawmakers.
The pro-government party was accused of having divided views at the district council level - where it opposed the extensions - and in the legislature where it backed them.
"Do you have two DABs?" asked Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing. DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung replied: "We are accountable to all the people in Hong Kong."
Even without Tien's motion, the two requests had faced a long delay. Pan-democrats including "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung had prepared more than 500 amendments as well as numerous questions.
Lau Wong-fat, who vowed to oppose the funding request, said last night deferral was the "best possible result". Fellow members of the Business and Professionals Alliance were vague about whether they would support Lau.
Lam Chiu-ying, a professor at the geography department at Chinese University, criticised the lawmakers for misplaced priorities and failure to find out the truth about the waste crisis.
"They have just used a local perspective to deal with the overall interests of the whole society. It is very sad to see this," he said.