Hong Kong lawmakers approve extra cash for education after angry final session
But delaying tactics by pan-democrats, still seething after disqualification of four members, means five other items on agenda were left untouched
Hong Kong’s divided legislature on Wednesday finally approved the government’s funding boost of HK$3.6 billion for education, but relations between the administration and opposition lawmakers were left in tatters over the recent disqualification of four pan-democrats.
The funding request – stemming from a key election pledge by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – was not put to a vote until shortly after 6pm, following a caustic seven-hour debate at the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee.
The last meeting of the committee ahead of a three-month summer break started and ended in confrontation and chaos, with most of the other funding requests in the queue left untouched.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum originally backed the education package, but the pan-democrats were put off last week when a court ruled in favour of the government and disqualified Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim for improper oath-taking when they were sworn in last October.
The pan-democrats, armed with props depicting their ousted colleagues, deliberately dragged out the debate to protest against what they saw as a “declaration of war” by the establishment.
The funding was approved 43-3, with three opposition lawmakers voting against it and six abstaining. Four of them staged a protest in the chamber, once the item had been endorsed.
Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por tried to push the remaining items to a vote amid objections in the final 30 minutes, after he changed the venue and barred the four protesting lawmakers from entering.
In the end, five out of the eight funding requests in the queue remained untouched, including a proposed pay rise for civil servants and public works related to the Central Kowloon Route.
Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan expressed disappointment that funding for the new road to ease congestion in Kowloon was in limbo. He warned that the delay could cost HK$2 billion a year.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said: “What happened today was caused by Leung Chun-ying,” blaming Lam’s predecessor for orchestrating the disqualifications.
“We hope Lam can make use of the [summer recess] to untie the knot, as only by doing so can harmony be achieved.”
But the committee chairman pinned the blame on the pan-democrats, complaining that their refusal to cooperate – which forced the meeting to be suspended three times – had left him dismayed and outraged that the public interest had been sacrificed to partisan politics.
Education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he hoped relations between the city’s executive and legislative branches could still be mended in future.
The split within the pro-democracy bloc was also highlighted by the tactics they adopted on Wednesday, with at least one of them trying to speed up proceedings to pass more items.