Funding boost for Hong Kong education hits a snag as pan-democrats stage silent protest
Meeting to approve application suspended twice, with time running out as the city’s Legislative Council heads for summer recess
A Hong Kong committee looking at a proposal for an education funding boost of HK$3.6 billion suspended its meeting twice on Wednesday morning, with the city’s opposition camp warning that it could no longer be business as usual in the legislature following the disqualification of four lawmakers.
Eight items in total – which include the funding applications for education as well as hospital redevelopment, and a pay rise for civil servants – were awaiting the approval of lawmakers.
The meeting on Wednesday would be the last for the Finance Committee before the Legislative Council’s summer recess.
Before the meeting, the pro-democracy camp had warned that it would focus on only the education funding request – the first item on the agenda – to protest against what it called “a declaration of war” by the government.
Relations between the bloc and the city’s administration have turned sour after a court last week ruled in favour of the government and disqualified four pan-democratic lawmakers: Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim.
Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por was forced to suspend the meeting twice after the first 30 minutes when four lawmakers – Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, Claudia Mo Man-ching and Raymond Chan Chi-chuen – stood up and staged a silent protes.
Chan eventually ordered Cheung out of the chamber after the Labour Party lawmaker refused to oblige his request to sit down following the break.
“I am only standing here and holding the placards [featuring the disqualified lawmakers]. I have already been very restrained compared with what the government had done ... which amounted to a coup d’etat,” Cheung complained.
“Why am I banned from standing which would not disrupt the meeting at all?”
Cheung led the camp in chanting “shame on the disqualification” as he was escorted out by security guards.
A war of words also erupted when pan-democrats complained about two pro-establishment lawmakers – including Michael Luk Chung-hung – taking pictures with their phones during the chaos, a move not allowed in the meeting.
The HK$3.6 billion funding boost for the education sector was an election pledge of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. The sweeteners being offered include a HK$30,000 annual subsidy for Hong Kong students applying for a self-financing degree programme at non-government-funded tertiary institutions.
Democrat lawmaker James To Kun-sun, together with a number of other pan-democrats, was unhappy that the proposed subsidies would cover only these institutions and argued they should cover the self-financing programmes offered by the city’s eight publicly funded universities as well.
Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung declined to amend the package but promised to consider the suggestion in future evaluations.
Beijing-friendly lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, of the Federation of Trade Unions, expressed concerns that the funding request for the pay rise for public servants would not be approved before the legislature’s summer recess.
The finance committee would hold two more sessions, which are set to last two hours each, on Wednesday afternoon.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said he hoped that lawmakers, especially pan-democrats, on Legco’s Finance Committee would pass the government’s eight funding requests on Wednesday.
Speaking after a Correctional Services Department event, Cheung said the requests were all related to livelihood issues and were urgent, such as one for Tuen Mun Hospital and another to build a new hospital in Kai Tak, on top of the education funding proposal.
He added that due to the time limit, the government had cut 10 other requests – including many less controversial ones – from the Wednesday agenda.
The government had taken a rational attitude after the disqualification of four elected pan-democratic lawmakers, Cheung said.
“We will not add insult to injury or add fuel to the fire,” he said. “But we must act within the framework of the legal system. The government has released goodwill, and I hope the pan-democratic lawmakers can cool things down.
“We are determined to build relations, particularly to build rapport with the pan-democrats ... on the Legislative Council.”