POLITICS

Slow progress to clear HK$6.8b funding requests to Legco Finance Committee

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 July, 2014, 4:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2014, 4:45am

An allowance for low-income families, a pay rise for civil servants and an innovation and technology bureau are among a dozen measures set to face a three-month delay after the Legislative Council's Finance Committee yesterday finished scrutinising only the first few items in a HK$6.8 billion backlog.

When the meeting closed at 9.10pm, the committee had approved only the first six funding requests on its agenda. They included a hotel development project for Disneyland and cash for building a home for the elderly in Kwai Chung.

Debate on a HK$1.5 billion food waste treatment facility was adjourned to October - after Legco's summer recess - to environment undersecretary Christine Loh Kung-wai's disappointment.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing and pan-democrat Frederick Fung Kin-kee expressed concern about Queen Mary Hospital's HK$1.6 billion reconstruction - an item still on the agenda. They lamented the meeting's "slow" progress and promised to urge their allies to speed up.

The committee may be able to debate up to about 20 proposals in its final eight-hour session today, after People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip said he and his filibustering colleagues would not delay the passage of most proposals.

Chan reiterated that he wanted today's meeting to approve requests including a one-month rent waiver for more than 760,000 public housing tenants, an extra month's payment for 1.1 million social-security recipients, and end with the approval of the Queen Mary Hospital project.

He said his group would not allow the government's landfill extension and incinerator projects - the next items on the agenda - to be passed before the summer recess.

But this means 13 other funding requests scheduled after the landfill plans will have to wait for the new session in October. These include the low-income family allowance, civil servants' pay rise and the new bureau.

Government officials reiterated yesterday that they would not reorder the committee's agenda to put non-controversial measures first, despite a request by the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers on Thursday.

Legco public service panel chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said she was worried about the impact on the civil service.

"Although they will eventually get the back-pay, the lower and medium-ranked civil servants usually get it in the summer, to pay for their children's textbooks and study tours," Ip said.

Welfare panel chairwoman Chan Yuen-han was also worried about low-income families who would have to wait longer for the subsidy.

"I still believe that the government and lawmakers should sit down and talk" about how to resolve the backlog, she said.

Labour and Welfare Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung did not say if talks were still possible, but reiterated the government's view that reshuffling the agenda would set a bad precedent.

"I hope that if the committee cannot approve the scheme's funding [on Saturday], it can meet again during the summer," Cheung said.