Attempts by the government to expand the city's landfills suffered another setback yesterday after it was forced to withdraw funding applications in the Legislative Council.
The three applications for preparatory work on the expansion plans were part of a HK$12.2 billion reserve fund proposal to be voted on by the Legco Finance Committee.
Permanent Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Elizabeth Tse Man-yee and Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing withdrew the HK$27 million items before they were put to vote, citing controversies and misunderstanding.
Their move followed criticism by lawmakers that they were "sneaky" in trying to put the proposals through the annual reserve fund, enabling them to bypass legislators who oversee environmental affairs.
The government wants to expand the landfills in Tseung Kwan O, Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun - which will all be full by 2019 - to take waste until a planned incinerator is ready.
Strong opposition forced Wong to shelve the Tseung Kwan O proposal in July, while legislators also decided to delay discussion of the Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun plans.
Yesterday's proposal sought funding for a consultancy study on the design and construction of the Tseung Kwan O landfill expansion, and compensation for acquiring land for the Ta Kwu Ling landfill. Wong said the cash would not be used until Legco approved the expansion plans.
The government also wanted to study the feasibility of improving roads leading to the Tuen Mun landfill, as requested by the district council. Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, also a Tuen Mun district councillor, said the government should have got approval from the district council before presenting the plans to Legco. "The pretext of the preparation work was that the expansion would go ahead, and that is not agreed by the district council," he said.
Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, of the Labour Party, said the government's move was inappropriate. "If we passed these items, but then the landfill expansions could not go ahead, it would be a waste of public resources," he said.
Lawmakers also wanted the government to withdraw another item for the proposed incinerator, but Tse said the study had already begun so they could no longer take it away. It was passed together with other applications.
Wong said the studies did not mean the expansions would go ahead. "We still need to submit our proposals to Legco," he said. "The lawmakers raised their opposition too late, making communication difficult."
He said he did not expect such controversies and the withdrawal was for the "overall interest", as other items in the reserve fund proposal could be stalled if it was not passed. "We included the items in the proposal according to existing mechanisms. I'm surprised it sparked controversy."
The government would continue to talk to district councils and submit an overall waste management plan to Legco before March, Wong said.