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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong lawmakers to approve HK$170 billion for city construction projects by July, reveals Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Amount is more than three times the HK$55 billion agreed to in previous legislative year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 11:19pm

The Legislative Council’s Finance Committee is close to approving an eye-watering HK$170 billion for government construction projects, the city’s leader revealed on Tuesday.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the amount, which dwarfs the HK$55 billion approved in the previous legislative year, should be agreed before the Legco summer recess begins in July.

So far the committee has agreed more than HK$132 billion for government construction projects in this legislative year.

However, pro-government lawmakers, and the pan-democrats, are divided over whether the amount, which is the highest that has been approved for five years, has been made possible by improved Exco-Legco relations, or the change in the committee’s rule book that restricted filibustering.

Lam attributed the figure to extra meetings and a consensus between the administration and lawmakers on how to prioritise items for scrutiny.

Since late March, Lam said the Finance Committee has approved at least HK$48.7 billion of funds, with at least 23 items greenlighted by its subcommittees pending approval.

“So now, I feel very optimistic,” Lam said before an Executive Council meeting.

“Judging from the current progress, I believe … welfare and urgent items should be processed before the summer recess.”

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The approved items since late March include 10 construction projects greenlighted by the Public Works Subcommittee, four proposals to adjust or open new government positions supported by the Establishment Subcommittee, and five funding applications to realise welfare and economic policies announced by Lam in her Policy Address.

Funding for the policies, that were published last year, have been directly scrutinised and approved by the Finance Committee.

The chief executive said the committee and its two subcommittees held 22 extra meetings, taking some 82 hours, and thanked the lawmakers for attending the extra meetings.

Time was also saved after lawmakers and the government agreed to process uncontroversial funding applications first in an approach she called “easy first, difficult later”.

Lam also said fewer items greenlighted by the subcommittees were debated again in Finance Committee meetings.

As the committee had processed all the easy items, Lam said it was time to move on to ones considered less urgent or more controversial, such as a “musical fountain” on the Kwun Tong Promenade that will cost more than HK$50 million.

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Insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por, who is the Finance Committee chairman, said the rule book changes contributed to the increased figure projected by Lam.

In March, a number of amendments raised by the pro-establishment camp to the committee’s rule book were approved, meaning lawmakers can no longer move a motion to adjourn meetings, or to raise multiple non-binding motions on each agenda item.

“It is very hard to filibuster now,” Chan said.

He also said the relationship between the pro-democracy camp and the administration had improved, leading to more frequent negotiations.

Pro-democracy camp lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, however, disagreed that the rule book changes were a factor.

The passage of funding for the HK$42.3 billion Central Kowloon Route project at the start of this legislative year already accounted for a large portion of Lam’s HK$170 billion projection, Chu said.

He also noted that recent funding applications submitted by the government were less controversial.

Accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong of the Professionals Guild said the pan-democrats have always voiced concerns, and kept scrutinising proposals in the committee.

“The consensus to pass proposals about livelihood first does not mean we are going to rubber-stamp them.” Leung said.

He added that the number of non-controversial proposals to pass was more or less the same as last year.

Before the summer recess, there are still seven committee meetings, and 12 subcommittee meetings on public works and establishment.

The last council meeting is scheduled for July 11, while the last Finance Committee meeting before the summer recess is set for July 13.

Additional reporting by Alvin Lum