Queen Mary Hospital to get HK$1.6b overhaul as Legco says 'yes' in dying seconds of meeting
In last meeting of Legco's Finance Committee before the summer recess, a flurry of measures pass
Tony Cheung and Ada Lee
A HK$1.6 billion request for funds to redevelop Queen Mary Hospital received unanimous support from lawmakers yesterday, passing in the final minute of the Legislative Council Finance Committee's final meeting before the summer break.
Lawmakers approved 21 items on the agenda but did not get to 17 other proposals, which will now be delayed for at least three months.
They include funding to extend three landfills, an incinerator project, an allowance for low-income families, a pay rise for civil servants and a new innovation and technology bureau.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed disappointment that the committee did not get to those items. She said the government would have to find a way to minimise the impact of the delay to the low-income family allowance.
Finance Committee chairman Ng Leung-sing said it was unlikely any extra meetings would be added over the summer recess to deal with the backlog.
Lawmakers apparently speeded up their scrutiny of proposals before them yesterday after they managed to approve only six items during a six-hour session on Friday.
Yesterday's eight-hour session, called as an extension to Friday's to deal with the backlog, got off to a slow start. Lawmakers approved five plans in the first four hours. But in the second half, they pushed through 16 more.
Those included 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 the Queen Mary Hospital plan, which was approved at 6.39pm - the last minute of the meeting.
All of the 44 lawmakers who attended the meeting voted in favour of the hospital plan. No questions were asked before the vote. Ng does not vote.
Professor Lo Chung-mau, the hospital's chief of surgery, told Cable TV after the vote that he was "happy and excited" by the news.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Lo said. "When we knew that the Finance Committee might not be able to approve it, we were very disappointed. But it was very fortunate that it got through at the last minute."
The HK$1.6 billion would cover only the first phase of the hospital's redevelopment.
The plan was approved hours after Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man made a final appeal for support yesterday morning.
"Historical problems [at the hospital] mean equipment and space are inadequate to meet its needs," Ko said. "I think all residents would share the hope that it can be rebuilt as soon as possible, and this is also a very strong hope among our health-care workers."
The backlog of requests before the committee was made worse by pan-democrats' filibuster in protest at funding for a contentious plan to develop two new towns in the northeastern New Territories. The plan was approved last month after a two-month debate.
Ng, who was heavily criticised for his handling of those meetings, would not assign blame for the delay to 17 proposals. "Is it the filibustering or the political climate? It's difficult for me to say, [but] the public can think about it," he said.
Former Legco president Andrew Wong Wang-fat did not mince words about who was to blame. "It was the government who attacked the lawmakers first," he said.
On Thursday, 27 pan-democrats asked the government to reorder the committee's agenda, so that they could vote on the less controversial plans first, ahead of the more divisive landfill extension plans. The government and the pro-establishment camp dismissed their request.