Legco chief plans moves to cut short budget filibuster effort
Jasper Tsang hints at limiting length of budget debate in an attempt to end delaying tactic by radicals that threatens government funding
Tony Cheung and Jeffie Lam
Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing is set to announce fresh moves today to curb a marathon filibuster on the government budget that threatens to cut off the administration's cash supply.
Tsang said one possible solution was to set a maximum time for debates as radical pan-democrats seek to stretch out the discussion of more than 1,000 amendments to the budget bill as they demand a universal pension and cash handouts for the public.
Tsang's comments came after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying condemned the filibuster and called on the public to do the same. The delaying tactic is being used in the budget debate for the second year in a row.
The debate has taken up more than 60 hours of Legco's time since April 30. On Sunday, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah put the length of the total debate so far at 82 hours and called for an end to the "farce".
The government has repeatedly warned that its funding will run out if the budget is not passed this month.
Speaking yesterday, Jasper Tsang said he had been working with Legco's secretariat to explore ways to make the debate more efficient. That could include extending meetings, calling more Legco sessions or capping the time for discussions.
Tsang split the amendments into five sections, and Legco will resume the debate on the third today. Tsang said debate on each section could be limited to 10 hours. Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai called the time cap "a feasible option".
"Setting a time cap is not tantamount to depriving lawmakers of their right to monitor the government," Tsang said. "We all understand that our lawmakers are very 'capable'. If I give a lawmaker seven minutes to express his opinion, he can finish it within those seven minutes; but if I give him 70 hours … he can exhaust those 70 hours as well."
He said cutting short the debate offered a "glimmer of hope" the bill could pass this month.
Tsang is thought to be using his powers to set the timing of meetings under Article 72 of the Basic Law. Tsang attracted an unsuccessful legal challenge last year when he closed the debate under a clause of Legco's rules which allows the president to act "as he thinks fit" in circumstances for which no rules are set.
He expressed "reservations" about all-night meetings, but has extended today's meeting by an hour to end at 11pm.
Leung yesterday joined members of his cabinet in condemning the filibuster and criticised the lawmakers for threatening funding for public services.
"Several lawmakers made it clear early on that [they would] filibuster, so [they are] not fulfilling their duties, nor exercising their rights," Leung said. "[This] would affect people's livelihood, education, elderly care and low-income working families … So I call on the public to speak up, and hope that these lawmakers can stop it immediately."
John Tsang warned last week that the government would stop funding the Legco Commission, the Hospital Authority and the University Grants Committee next month to "pull together" HK$5.1 billion for other work.