Jasper Tsang warns of 'fiscal cliff' if budget filibuster drags on

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 4:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 8:31am

Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing yesterday warned of a "fiscal cliff" if the budget debate filibuster drags on.

"Both members and the government should clearly know the implications of a prolonged debate," Tsang said. "The government should get prepared and think about measures to prevent the so-called fiscal cliff."

Speaking after a meeting of Legco's committee on rules of procedure, Tsang said it was inappropriate to say when was a good time to cut off the filibuster.

"The president cannot stop members from talking if they have complied with the rules of procedures," he said.

Tsang's remarks came after Legco spent three days last week going through the budget, which is facing 1,917 amendments, most sponsored by four radical pan-democrats. A meeting the week before was adjourned because it failed to reach a quorum.

Acting chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor accused the radical pan-democrats of abusing the filibuster because they were threatening social welfare payments and public projects.

Lam was the second top officials in days to attack the radical pan-democrats.

On Sunday, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the Hospital Authority had lost HK$1 million in bank interest because of the filibuster.

The government has warned that the operations budget will dry up if Legco has not passed the budget by late May or early June.

Tsang added that the rules committee would consult lawmakers on two proposals to tackle filibustering.

The first was to empower the president to cut short a marathon debate if he received the backing of two-thirds of the house committee. This would be followed by passage in the full council by majorities of geographical and functional constituency representatives.

The second would allow him to reject "frivolous or vexatious" amendments in lots, instead of vetting them one by one.

It is unlikely a consensus can be reached on how to halt debate. Pro-government lawmakers consider the two-thirds threshold to cut short a filibuster too high.

"We are worried that the two-thirds threshold, which is rarely used other than when voting on electoral reform, is too high," DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung said.

Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said the pan-democrats had yet to discuss their stance on the proposed amendments.

"Some of us want to wait for the Court of Final Appeal's judgment in September before making a decision," said Leong, referring to the ongoing judicial challenge filed by radical pan-democrat "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung on filibusters.