Legco chief Jasper Tsang rules out ‘Long Hair’ amendments to budget

Jasper Tsang rules out hundreds of 'frivolous' proposals, but a record 960 amendments will be debated as radicals seek to delay bill

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 3:16am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 4:49pm

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has thrown out more than half of the proposed amendments to the government budget after rejecting the majority of those tabled by a radical pan-democrat planning to filibuster the bill.

Tsang rejected 957 of the 1,507 amendments put forward by League of Social Democrats chairman "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, dismissing most as "frivolous or meaningless".

Still, a record 960 amendments will be debated when the bill returns to Legco on April 30.

Tsang said he based his decision on the precedent of last year's budget filibuster.

But Leung, who will seek to delay the bill's passage to fight for cash handouts, universal pensions and pay cuts for top officials, said Tsang was being "unreasonable". He questioned whether Tsang had been told to act by the local or central governments, or by Beijing-loyalist lawmakers, and would seek legal advice on a possible judicial review.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had expressed "disappointment" at the filibuster plan, while more than 40 Beijing-loyalist lawmakers signed a petition against the tactic.

But Tsang insisted he based his decision only on the law and Legco rules.

"I didn't consider making a decision in response to officials' or lawmakers' requests," he said. "All my judgments are based on the law - the Basic Law and Legco's rules."

Tsang ruled out 48 amendments on technical grounds and said the 909 "frivolous" proposals should have been grouped into 116 smaller amendments, or "sequences", as most simply cut a body's spending by differing amounts.

He said he approved similar amendments last year because lawmakers insisted they gave a meaningful choice between different levels of expenditure.

"[Last year,] neither the members who proposed the amendments, or the other members, made any comments at all on the difference between various amendments belonging to the same sequence," Tsang said. "This convinced me that [the amendments] … serve no purpose … other than meaninglessly lengthening the meeting."

He said Leung could review and resubmit 232 amendments.

Some 410 other amendments by 13 pan-democrats have been accepted. They include 261 from People Power's Raymond Chan Chi-chuen and Albert Chan Wai-yip and 120 from independent Wong Yuk-man, who will all join the filibuster.

Tsang came under fire last year when, after 13 days of debate, he ended a 120-hour discussion on 710 amendments to the budget by invoking a clause of Legco's rules of procedure that allows the president to act in a scenario not covered in the rules.

Voting on this year's amendments could take more than 30 hours, Tsang said. That could go up should Leung resubmit his amendments. Lawmakers can give an unlimited number of 15-minute speeches on each amendment, as long as they stay on topic.

Tsang also pledged to review security after Lam wrote to him to complain that Leung hurled so-called hell money - fake cash usually burned as an offering to the dead - at Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah in Legco on Wednesday.