Legco no-show: functional seat lawmakers have worst attendance record

Veteran Lau Wong-fat inherits Timothy Fok’s title at bottom of the attendance table, with functional seat lawmakers the worst offenders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 2013, 1:12am

Veteran lawmaker Lau Wong-fat found himself in the spotlight in recent weeks as he railed against plans by the government to expand landfills in Tuen Mun.

But Lau, a key figure in the Heung Yee Kuk and the Business and Professionals Alliance of lawmakers, finds himself in the news for a different reason after a South China Morning Post survey identified him as the least active member of the Legislative Council in the legislative session that ended yesterday.

Lau steps into the shoes of Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, who was at the bottom of the attendance table for seven years before stepping down as representative of the sports, performing arts, culture and publication sector before September's election.

The survey found that veterans of the functional constituencies - elected by small groups of professionals and businesspeople rather than the public at large - were among the most frequent absentees from Legco plenary sessions and meetings of its two most important panels, the House Committee and the Finance Committee.

In addition, the poll showed that the 28 new lawmakers elected in September's poll were harder working than the 42 veterans who returned to the legislature, regardless of whether they represented functional or geographical constituencies.

Lau made it to 83 per cent of full Legco meetings up to July 10. Records for more recent meetings have not yet been released.

Lau's attendance rate was still far better than that of Fok, who went to 25 of the 36 Wednesday council meetings in his last year in office and also topped the no-show list for the house and finance committees, just ahead of banking sector lawmaker David Li Kwok-po. Li, like Fok, did not contest September's poll.

Defending his work, Lau said he had been ill for more than a month last year, during which he spent time in hospital, thus affecting his attendance rate.

At 76, Lau is the oldest lawmaker, having served since 1985. He also topped the no-show list for the security and constitutional affairs panels.

"I also have many other public responsibilities, such as [chairing] Tuen Mun District Council and Heung Yee Kuk," Lau added. "If Uncle Fat could not do his homework, why did so many people support him?"

Lau was elected uncontested in one of the smallest of the functional constituencies - just 147 people are eligible to vote in the seat representing the rural powerbrokers of the kuk.

In the House Committee, which is responsible for setting the council agenda and considers matters relating to its business, and the Finance Committee, Dr Leung Ka-lau was the most frequent absentee. Leung, a practising doctor, has represented the medical sector since 2008. By July 5, he had attended only 13 out of 35 House Committee meetings, resulting in a 37 per cent attendance rate. He attended 35 per cent of Finance Committee meetings, to Lau's 37.5 per cent.

Leung was also bottom of the attendance list for the manpower panel, turning up only at 27 per cent of its meetings - three of the 11 it held in the past year. It was the lowest attendance rate by a member of any of Legco's 18 panels. He did not raise any oral questions to government officials at regular Legco meetings and tabled just one motion for debate, at yesterday's meeting, calling for the Hospital Authority to be scrapped, complaining that it was "misgoverned".

But Leung said his lack of party affiliation meant he focused purely on the concerns of his sector and should not be judged on attendance alone. "There was little I could do [about the attendance record]," Leung said. "My performance was not based on this benchmark."

One lawmaker, however, did not manage even a single oral question or motion for debate during the year; Abraham Razack, a colleague of Lau's in the Business and Professionals Alliance. Razack could not be reached for comment.

He was returned uncontested by the real estate and construction sector in September's poll. The sector has come out strongly against government attempts to curb soaring property prices in recent months, with thousands of real estate agents and industry workers marching in protest to the government headquarters at Admiralty on July 7.

Razack, like other lawmakers, had filed written questions to officials during the legislative year.

The performance of Lau, Leung and Razack was in line with pessimistic predictions last year from a group that tracks lawmakers' activities.

In October, the group, which has studied the performance of legislators for the past two decades, said it did not expect any improvement after its survey found that some of the previous term's worst attendees, including Lau, Leung and Razack, were re-elected in their functional constituencies.

Leung countered at that time, that the group's analyses were superficial. "My stances on various issues in Legco are more important than superficiality … I'd rather do more practical things such as focus on medical and important social issues," he said.

Although many Beijing loyalists in functional constituencies were among the worst performers, directly elected pan-democrats had little to shout about.

Former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan, one of five "super-seat" lawmakers elected by 3 million voters who cannot vote in functional constituencies, attended just half of the House Committee meetings. These seats are known as "super seats" because their occupants have a bigger mandate than their colleagues. Ho, who was first elected in 1995, was the most frequent absentee at education panel meetings, also attending about half. He made it to 97 per cent of full Legco meetings and 83 per cent of Finance Committee meetings.

Ho, who is a solicitor and a Tuen Mun district councillor, said he skipped some House Committee meetings, which only dealt with house-keeping matters. "Sometimes the meetings were not important … and I have other engagements such as meetings with district councillors," Ho said.

He said party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing was a regular attendee at House Committee meetings and could inform other Democrats on what happened.

Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan, representing the New Territories West constituency, made it to 91 per cent of full council meetings and about 70 per cent of the finance and house committee meetings.

Lee's attendance record was particularly low in April, when he was working with striking dockers. The 40-day dock workers' strike ended in May.

"Since we have a team of [Labour Party lawmakers], sometimes I skipped House Committee meetings when there was nothing to vote on," Lee added.

Overall, the attendance rating at full council meetings was 97.94 per cent, up from the 97.45 per cent level recorded in the final year of the previous legislature.

Additional reporting by Bryan Harris and Stuart Lau