Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was disappointment yesterday after lawmakers failed to vote on a proposal to donate HK$100 million to the Sichuan earthquake relief effort amid concerns the funds may be misused.
"I hope this will not affect the ties between Hong Kong people and mainland compatriots and lawmakers do not make a mountain out of a molehill," she said after a two-hour Finance Committee ended before all who wanted to had spoken.
This came as charities raising funds for the disaster said donations were running well behind those for the 2008 Sichuan quake.
The charities said it may be owing to concerns the money would be siphoned off by corrupt officials or because of the smaller scale of the Yaan quake, which killed more than 190 people while the Wenchuan disaster killed more than 80,000.
Lam said the government would discuss with committee chairman Tommy Cheung Yu-yan when another meeting could be held.
The pro-establishment camp, which dominates the 69-member Finance Committee, has already expressed support for the donation. But the main pro-democracy parties have said they will oppose any donation directly to mainland governments.
More than a dozen motions to be raised with the aim of tightening control over use of the money - with more likely to emerge - may further delay scrutiny.
Cheung said he had so far received 13 motions on the funding request. People Power legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip said he had prepared another 30.
Lam said the money, if approved, should go to the provincial government as only it could handle large-scale relief work. "We have to put trust in the system," she said.
During the debate, pan-democratic lawmakers said the government should hand the money over to local relief groups to prevent its misuse.Pro-establishment legislators said refusing to donate would punish victims in dire need of aid, not officials.
The Salvation Army by yesterday received HK$1.2 million - a third of the amount at a similar stage in 2008. "The public has negative feelings and is worried about the use of donations," The army's community relations director Simon Wong Kwok-ching said. "People who donate have more demands. They hope funds can be used properly."
Kevin Chiu Wun-ming, chief executive officer of World Vision Hong Kong, said people would donate according to the seriousness of the disaster.
Despite concerns about corruption Chiu said contact with mainland authorities was necessary. "Otherwise, each party would be doing their own work. That would be chaotic."
Unicef, the United Nations children's fund, said Hong Kong people's donations might have been affected by inflation and property prices. It had received HK$800,000 by noon yesterday while about HK$4 million was received in the same period in 2008.
World Vision said some HK$4 million had been raised, also less than last time.
A former official who used to help with Hong Kong government-led reconstruction projects in Sichuan in the wake of the 2008 quake yesterday said corruption existed but he had never witnessed it.
Kennon Tam Chung-lun, who worked as a deputy director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Chengdu from 2008 to 2010, suggested local authorities consider passing the HK$100 million to non-government groups.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong will give donations to its appeal directly to the central government through its liaison office. Chairman Tam Yiu-chung said the central government should be trusted.