Hong Kong Budget 2017-2018

Hong Kong lawmakers ease up on delaying tactics as budget bill gets lukewarm response

Just 745 amendments have been filed ahead of the debate, compared with over 2,000 last year

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 April, 2017, 11:06pm

Pan-democratic lawmakers are planning the shortest filibuster on the government budget for five years when they start scrutinising the bill on April 26.

But far from showing agreement with spending plans, it reflects their lukewarm response to the last financial blueprint of Leung Chun-ying’s outgoing administration.

A total of 745 amendments have been tabled to the Legislative Council, down on the 2,168 last year.

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“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung remained the fiercest lawmaker, proposing about 500 amendments to focus on his call for a universal pension scheme, which the government has consistently ruled out.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen tabled 70 and called for the government to withdraw the much-criticised Territory-wide System Assessment for Primary 3 pupils.

Newly-elected lawmakers Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick each submitted dozens of amendments. However, they dismissed suggestions they were filibustering, saying it was their way of carefully scrutinising the budget.

They planned to focus their speeches on development and education spending.

In previous budget debates pan-democratic lawmakers have dragged out proceedings for weeks, causing the government to suspend funding to some public bodies, before holding a vote.

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As Leung prepares to stand down from office in less than three months, few lawmakers have shown much interest in the budget by the new financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po. It remains unclear if he will be retained when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is sworn in as chief executive on July 1.

Chan sought to be more aggressive than his predecessor, John Tsang Chun-wah, in shaping public finances with his budget speech, vowing to review the tax system but retain fiscal prudence.

Making the case for a change from the outlook of Tsang – who quit in December to make an unsuccessful run in the city’s leadership race – Chan spelled out more proactive moves for taxes, the use of surpluses and land revenue forecasts. The formula for projecting land revenue will be updated for greater accuracy.

Starry Lee Wai-king, a lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, asked pan-democrats not to launch a filibuster so that needy groups could benefit earlier from the proposed sweeteners offered.