The belated consultation on the controversial proposal to ban Legislative Council by-elections has breached the government's own internal guidelines.
The revelation came after the administration sent an additional minister - Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing - to join embattled Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung in defending the government against lawmakers' criticisms.
According to a general circular issued by the Director of Administration that outlines 'the means by which the government collects and assesses public opinion', there should be no pretext to a consultation. Public opinion should be sought and heard before the government drafts and tables a bill.
'[The consultation] should make it quite clear that no decision has been taken by the government,' reads the circular, which was obtained by Civic Act-Up pan-democrat Cyd Ho Sau-lan.
But the forthcoming two-month consultation would be based on ideas set forth in a bill designed to change the way Legco mid-term vacancies for directly elected seats are filled. Under the government's plan, the vacated seat would go to the next-best-placed candidate in the same list as the departed incumbent.
The consultation was announced only after pan-democrats and Beijing-loyalist lawmakers both repeatedly criticised the government plan, and after the July 1 march in which 220,000 Hongkongers, by organisers' estimates, took to the streets.
Lam said the consultation - for which documents would be out in two weeks - would remain open. 'We will publish all the submissions we receive,' the minister said in Legco yesterday.
Civic Party lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee asked who was at fault for the belated consultation. 'Who should take the responsibility for the error in the lack of consultation, which led to 220,000 residents taking to the streets? The home affairs or the constitutional minister?'
Tsang said the constitutional bureau held ultimate responsibility.
Lawmakers asked why the home affairs minister was assigned to answer a question on a political proposal. Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said the government's enlistment of Tsang showed it had seen the seriousness of the crisis it was facing. 'The administration is trying to get another official to dilute the political conflict,' Cheung said.
The government had scheduled a Legco vote on its proposal for next Wednesday, but withdrew it last week. Radical democrats People Power have vowed to besiege Legco on that day. People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said he expected 3,000 people to join the action, which would call for Lam's resignation.
But both the Civil Human Rights Front - organiser of the July 1 march - and 20 pan-democrats have said they would not participate or encourage Hongkongers to join in.
'We think the most urgent goal is to deepen public understanding of the evil bill, which deprives them of voting rights,' Ho said.