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Legislative Council

Legislative Council filibuster holds up Hong Kong officials’ pay rise

Pan-democrats spend most of finance meeting seeking adjournments and questioning planned rise, which minister says will help attract talent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 9:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 11:28pm

The Legislative Council failed to vote on a pay rise for ministers joining the next government, as pan-democrats filibustered for the first time since this term started three months ago.

The democrats spent more than half of the four-hour Finance Committee meeting yesterday questioning the need for the 12.4 per cent rise, and almost all of the rest of it debating whether to adjourn the discussion.

It came a day after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, seen as Beijing’s preferred choice as the city’s next chief executive, formally announced her plan to run for the top job, hours after resigning as chief secretary. Financial ­Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah resigned a month ago ahead of an expected bid. Beijing has yet to approve his, or Lam’s, departure.

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At the Finance Committee meeting, democratic lawmakers said it was too early to talk about pay rises, as new ministers would not take office until July. Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said: “Some officials have performed very poorly in this term … Now we don’t know who, among them, will be reappointed.”

People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen questioned whether the proposal should have been tabled at all, because the Legco constitutional affairs panel had rejected it in a non-binding vote on December 19. Localist Eddie Chu Hoi-dick moved to adjourn the debate, but pro-Beijingers voted it down.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said that since the rise would happen as the next administration takes office, “the approval of the funding will help the new leader in forming his or her cabinet.” He admitted that a higher salary may not be an important factor for incoming ministers.

The committee will debate the plan again next Friday.

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In a reference to Lam saying God told her to run for the top job, Tam said: “I became a political appointee when my predecessor Stephen Lam Sui-lung invited me to be his undersecretary. A calling was also involved but I dare not to say who it was from.”

Tam had said last month that the proposed rise was “very moderate and reasonable”, given that salaries for top officials had stayed the same since 2002. He also said it was increasingly difficult to get people to join the government. The highest-ranking minister, the chief secretary, earns HK$330,565 per month.

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Meanwhile, Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong invited the Democratic and Civic parties to its spring reception on Thursday.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai and Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said their parties had sent representatives to the occasion in the past, and there would be no exception this time.

But localist lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who was not invited, said his democratic colleagues should not go, because the liaison office was “trying to divide” the camp.