Officials stand accused of trying to get studies into controversial landfill expansion projects funded by putting them through an annual reserve fund that allows them to bypass lawmakers who oversee environmental affairs.
The government's move comes half a year after environment minister Wong Kam-sing shelved its application to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill amid strong opposition even among pro-government legislators.
The Environmental Protection Department is now applying to the Legislative Council's public works subcommittee for an HK$8.8 million grant for a consultancy study on the design and construction of the Southeast New Territories landfill extension, according to Legco papers.
The government's two other plans to extend the Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun dumps were also dashed last summer. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said afterwards that the government "can't give up" extensions to all three dumps.
The Ta Kwu Ling extension would require HK$37.7 million, while a feasibility study of road access to the Tuen Mun site would need HK$29 million, the latest papers showed.
The three applications are part of a total application of HK$12.2 billion for government capital projects. They are due to be discussed on Friday.
But one pro-democracy lawmaker has described the move to combine the applications as "cunning".
"The government is very cunning because it opted to withdraw the [Tseung Kwan O] application last year, but is now binding its reapplication in one go with about 30 other items which I'm not opposing," said "super seat" lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood. "It has posed a difficult question to lawmakers like me."
Fung said he had asked the Legco secretariat if it was possible to remove the three applications from the bundle, but the secretariat said there were no precedents of that having been done.
An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said the application was "in line with relevant procedures" as it was for the "necessary" preparatory work for the individual projects.
Sai Kung district councillor Christine Fong Kwok-shan asked lawmakers to vote down the government application.