Lawmakers lock horns over 26 public works items ... while HK$12.4 billion funding vote stalls
Pan-democrats urge separating controversial projects such as Wang Chau development for scrutiny, but government claims it’s disruptive to do so
Voting on HK$12.4 billion funding for a package of over 9,428 public works items was further delayed on Friday at a Hong Kong legislative panel meeting as pan-democratic lawmakers locked horns with the government over the bundling of 26 controversial projects.
The impasse continued as lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim moved an adjournment motion at the Legislative Council’s public works subcommittee meeting to try to gain time to examine the sensitive items in detail, but it was defeated by 22 votes to 18 after a lengthy debate.
Pan-democratic lawmakers also called on Legco to review a long-standing finance committee practice of authorising the government to seek funding for the Capital Works Reserve Fund on an en bloc basis once every year. Specifically, the practice gives the government authority to approve small project expenditures not exceeding HK$30 million per item.
“We are not rubber stamps that automatically approve any government proposals,” Yiu said. “If some items could involve conflicts of interest, why can’t the government take them out and let us examine them one by one?”
The representative for the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector saw his concerns echoed by other pan-democratic lawmakers, with some calling on the government to separate the items that concerned them from the package.
“Authorising the government to hold this power over this en bloc funding allocation prevents us from performing our job as a government watchdog,” independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said. “We need to take back part of this power.”
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said the 26 disputed items only accounted for 0.28 per cent of the whole package. “Why can’t the government take these out to let us thoroughly scrutinise them?” he asked.
But Deputy Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Raistlin Lau Chun said the government could not afford to suspend some items, claiming that of the 9,428 projects, over 8,000 were already underway and relevant contracts had been signed.
The items are mainly divided into two categories: small projects for maintenance works for slopes, schools and roads; and preliminary studies for large projects such as a HK$50 million musical fountain project in Kwun Tong.
“Among the 26 controversial items, most of them have already commenced operations,” Lau said. “The Wang Chau development items cannot be suspended otherwise the public housing project cannot proceed.”