Finance chief warns lengthy budget filibuster will harm public services

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 12:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 5:16pm

Public services may eventually be affected if an expected filibuster of the budget lasts too long, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah warned yesterday as the Legislative Council began vetting the bill.

The budget has drawn a record 1,917 proposed amendments from pan-democrats.

An interim fund to pay for the public sector while the bill is debated would run out by June, Tsang said.

"At the beginning of June, some departments will face difficulty. I am sure legislators are as concerned as we are," Tsang told the media outside the legislative chamber before the meeting yesterday.

"If the amendments are voted on one by one, each taking two minutes, it will take over 60 hours to finish voting on all the proposed amendments. The risks of delay are very high."

The amendments were proposed by 14 pan-democrats, including 1,503 by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, who has called on the government to establish a universal pension scheme before 2017.

The other demands of pan-democrats who have tabled amendments include a HK$10,000 payment to every resident and pay cuts for "useless" officials.

"The HK$10,000 is not a sweetener for poor elderly people, but a fund to continue with their lives," said Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of the People Power group in the debate yesterday.

"I hope lawmakers won't have a phobia of filibustering and will speak out to force the government to face the people's demands."

Ma Fung-kwok of the New Century Forum, an advocacy group for the middle class, said "previous experience" showed cash giveaways brought limited improvement to people's lives.

The number of amendments tabled this year broke last year's record of 751. It took 120 hours across 13 days for lawmakers to finish the second and third readings of that budget bill.

The bill was eventually passed after Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing invoked Rule 92 of the Legco procedural rules - which gives the president power to act in a situation not covered by existing rules - to end the filibuster.

He expelled three radical pan-democrats - Leung, Raymond Chan and Albert Chan Wai-yip - from the chamber for protesting against the decision.