Battle between Hong Kong government and lawmakers set to resume on several fronts
Leung Chun-ying is likely to come under attack as pan-democrats try to stop him being re-elected as chief executive next year
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s administration will face a torrid time on several fronts after the inauguration of the new Legislative Council on Wednesday, with three motions to probe his role in various controversial issues, four contentious funding requests and one disputed bill high on the agenda.
A political scientist expected the relationship between the legislative and executive branches of the government to remain tense until the chief executive election in March, as the pan-democratic camp was likely to make use of every opportunity to attack Leung to stop him from being re-elected.
The three controversies involving Leung are a HK$50 million payment to Leung from Australian engineering firm UGL; the removal of Rebecca Li Bo-lan, a top investigator of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, linked to a probe into that payment; and the government’s dealings with rural forces over the decision to downsize a public housing project in Yuen Long.
The motion for the probe into the UGL payment is likely to be passed because the lawmaker moving it, Kenneth Leung of the accountancy sector, is opting for the select committee route, which needs the backing of only 20 lawmakers, as opposed to a more powerful probe that could summon witnesses and call for documents but needs pro-establishment support to invoke.
“The petition will be launched at the earliest possible time,” the lawmaker said. “A select committee can ask a lot of probing questions even without P&P [powers and privileges]. We will draw the public’s attention to the core issues and how CY failed to answer the questions we raised before.”
According to the chief executive the UGL payment was an arrangement made with his surveying firm before he ran for the top job, but opponents say it opens him to possible conflicts of interest.
The committee would summon Leung, the legislator said. “He can refuse to come and the committee will draw its conclusion without his presence.”
Another arena of confrontation centres on Legco’s Finance Committee. While the government decides which proposals are considered first, at least four disputed funding requests are pending.
These include projects deferred in the last session due to time-wasting by lawmakers: Leung’s pet project, a HK$1 billion scholarship for students from countries linked to mainland China’s “One Belt, One Road” economic plan; a HK$249 million study to build artificial islands between Hong Kong Island and Lantau to create a “metropolis”; and a HK$96 million study to reclaim land in Sunny Bay, Lantau.
The government will also submit a fresh application for engineering works in the northeastern New Territories development scheme, according to a person familiar with the council’s operations.
The first request for funding in 2014 was passed in chaos after protesters stormed the council building and the committee chairman abruptly halted filibustering by lawmakers.
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, the activist-turned-lawmaker concerned with land issues, said he would definitely filibuster against the New Territories and artificial islands projects.
“But I won’t raise objections only at the last minute,” Chu said. “In the past, projects like these went unnoticed until they hit the last hurdle in the Finance Committee and it’s too late.”
He said he would organise talks in the communities concerned to explain the projects to residents to build support for blocking the schemes.
The administration also has bills for livelihood-related projects that need to pass urgently. The Private Columbarium Bill, which seeks to introduce a licensing scheme to regulate niche operators but lapsed in the last term, would be brought back this year, health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said last week.
Ko’s bureau is also seeking to revive a medical reform bill targeting the doctors’ watchdog – the subject of filibustering at the end of the last Legco term – early next year after completing a new round of consultation.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said he believed the democratic camp would make use of Legco to attack Leung as much as possible before the March election.
“If Leung wants to seek a second term, the government may want to keep peace before the chief executive election and table the controversial bills and funding requests to Legco after that,” Choy said.