Marathon budget protest could finish by end of the month

Officials from more than 80 departments and bureaus meet to thrash out contingency plans as lawmakers wade through amendments

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 3:47am

Senior officials prepared yesterday for crisis talks over the budget-bill filibuster amid warnings of a "fiscal cliff" looming next month if the bill is not passed this month.

Officials from more than 80 departments and bureaus are meeting at 11am today to assess cash flow and thrash out contingency plans. The meeting will be chaired by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

Lawmakers who are holding up passage of the bill with 1,192 remaining amendments, said they believed voting could be finished by the end of this month.

A person close to the government said that if it wasn't, the operations budgets of all departments would dry up by the middle of next month.

"Salaries of civil servants and subvented organisations couldn't be disbursed at the end of next month and departments couldn't purchase equipment to maintain their services," the source said.

"There is little the administration can do at this moment, except call on lawmakers to stop the filibuster. Members of the public should wake up and recognise the need to take steps to cut short filibusters in Legco meetings in future."

People Power lawmakers Albert Chan Wai-yip and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, two of four pan-democrats who are filibustering the bill, said voting on the amendments could "be finished by the end of the month".

They made the comments after a 30-minute meeting with Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing.

Most of the amendments were tabled by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, and independent lawmaker Wong Yuk-man in an effort to force the government to give in to their demands. People Power wants cash handouts for all Hongkongers while Leung wants a universal pension.

The Legislative Council spent three days last week going through the budget, and a meeting the week before was adjourned because it failed to reach a quorum.

Lawmakers continued to scrutinise the budget bill yesterday.

In the past, the government has needed at least two weeks to prepare for the bills to be gazetted. If the voting on the proposed amendments can be completed by the end of the month, the administration can narrowly avoid a fiscal cliff.

But the source said that even if this could be done, "we are already facing a 'policy-implementation cliff' as the practice of filibusters has spread to meetings of Legco's finance committee and public works subcommittee".

Albert Chan plans to move more than 700 motions at tomorrow's Finance Committee meeting to delay voting on a funding request for development projects in the New Territories.

At the meeting of the public works subcommittee on Tuesday, pan-democrat Gary Fan Kwok-wai tabled dozens of motions to be attached to the government's proposal for extension of the Tseung Kwan O landfill and construction of a waste incinerator.