Plan to restrict lawmakers filibustering

Lawmakers could be restricted to just one amendment per discussion item in bid to cut the filibustering delaying government projects

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 May, 2014, 4:02am

Lawmakers could be restricted to just one amendment per discussion item under a plan to counter the filibustering that is delaying funding applications for government projects.

Ng Leung-sing, the chairman of the Legislative Council's finance committee, floated the plan after a two-hour meeting yesterday at which lawmakers became so bogged down in procedural matters that they could not even start discussing the funding proposals on the agenda.

The meeting was supposed to decide on the government's application for HK$340 million to conduct advance works on the new towns of Kwu Tung North and Fanling North. The plans cover an area of 612 hectares and a projected population of 176,900.

Radical pan-democrats opposed to the development are seeking to table 720 amendments to the funding application motion. However, discussions did not even get as far as the first amendment after Albert Chan Wai-yip, of People Power, tabled a motion which sought to bar Ng from chairing the meeting.

He accused Ng of a conflict of interest because he was a non-executive director of SmarTone, part-owned by Sun Hung Kai Properties, which may benefit from the development plan. The pan-democratic camp supported his argument but pro-government legislators said it did not constitute a conflict.

Arguing over the motion took so long that there was no time to vote on it before lawmakers returned to the chamber for the full council meeting on the government budget, which has also been held up by filibustering.

Speaking after the meeting, Ng said he was examining each of the 720 amendments with the Legco Secretariat.

He was also consulting legal advisers as to whether he could invoke clause 37(A) of the finance committee's rules to limit the number of amendment motions.

The article stipulates that: "[A] member may move a motion ... if the motion is considered by the chairman as directly related to the agenda item and agreed by a majority of members that it should be proceeded forthwith."

Finance committee deputy chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic Party, said the clause had been interpreted loosely in the past and lawmakers had been allowed to table multiple amendments to a single item. "I am not saying past practice is the Bible. But if the chairman has a new interpretation of the rule, we will have to see whether there are new grounds," Lau said.

On Tuesday, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned that filibustering in the finance committee could hinder 47 funding proposals due to be deliberated by July, including a HK$1.6 billion redevelopment plan for Queen Mary Hospital.