Secret tunnel from Legco building 'should not be used to dodge press or protesters'

Legco Commission bars legislators from sneaking unseen past protesters or the press

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 3:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 9:49am

Dodging protesters or the press is not a good enough reason for lawmakers to sneak out of the Legislative Council building via its so-called secret tunnel.

So ruled the Legco Commission yesterday when it set guidelines on the use of the emergency tunnel that links the car parks beneath the legislative building to the car park of the government offices next door. The tunnel is wide enough for legislators to drive through.

Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said lawmakers' security was the prime concern in determining whether the passage would be opened; deliberate evasion of the public was not an acceptable reason. "If a lawmaker said [the usual exits] were accessible but he wanted to avoid protesters or the press, it is obviously not a security reason," said Tsang after the closed-door meeting.

The secret tunnel came to light in November. It was noted that some lawmakers had managed to dodge the ranks of supporters of Hong Kong Television Network, who were demanding an investigation into the government's decision to reject the station's application for a free-to-air TV licence.

The escape route raised concerns that it also offered lawmakers a way out of their accountability to the public.

The guidelines now state that the passage can only be used when the vehicle exits from Legco or Tim Mei Avenue - the public road that leads into the complex of government buildings at Tamar - are blocked.

The request has to be made by lawmakers or visitors carrying out public duties who were unable to leave the premises.

Despite Tsang's reassurance that the use of the passage would be closely monitored, NeoDemocrats lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai believed a complete ban on use of the passage would have been better.

"There are already enough passages to enable lawmakers to leave the Legco building. There are four exits, and plans for another footbridge are under way."

He added that the physical connection of the legislature and the administration had a "great symbolic meaning".

"It goes against the principle of separation of powers," said Fan, who was considering writing to the commission to appeal against the new guidelines.