ONE of the key functions of the Legislative Council is to scrutinise and approve government revenue and expenditure. Last week, the Legco Finance Committee (FC) held three all-day special meetings to question policy branch secretaries and department heads on the Draft Estimates in the 1995-96 Budget. Unfortunately, just as in previous years, the meetings were poorly attended. The start of the first session on the first day had to be delayed for 15 minutes because there were only seven members, one short of a quorum. Unlike other national parliaments, Legco has only 60 members, including three senior government officials and the president. Thus the onerous burden of serving on Legco's 40-odd committees falls on the shoulders of 56 members. Sadly, a good number do not pull their weight. On many occasions during last week's FC meetings, there was no quorum, but no one raised any objection because the meeting would have had to be halted until a quorum could be found. Some members did not even bother to put in an appearance. This may be because they know their days are numbered and they do not care if people accuse them of being lazy and irresponsible. After the September 17 Legco elections, there may well be 50 to 70 per cent new faces. I hope the new members will be more conscientious and diligent than some of the current persistent non-performers. Government officials may be just as exasperated as the public at Legco members' pathetic turnout. Almost invariably, the government contingent outnumbered Legco members. However, the Government is partly to blame for this disgraceful scenario. This is because the administration not only appoints busy business and professional people to Legco but also appoints many Legco members to countless advisory committees. As a result, members' time is stretched to the limits and Legco business is often given low priority. To compound the problem, of the numerous Legco committees, the FC and its Public Works and Establishment subcommittees are not able to attract many members to participate. Members seem to be more interested in discussing policy formulation and department operations rather than poring over technical and ponderous FC papers. This is despite the fact that control over the government purse-strings is Legco's most potent weapon. I am not suggesting that members should turn every government funding request into a political tug-of-war, but the public rightly expects us to scrutinise these requests carefully to ensure that taxpayers' money is spent wisely and responsibly. BESIDES power over the purse-strings, Legco's other key function is to enact legislation. Again this could be a dry and complicated exercise, which is further made difficult by the fact that some of the papers are given to the bills committees by the administration at the last minute, and often only in the English language. Thus, not surprisingly, members' participation in bills committees is also regrettably low. On paper, many bills committees have a respectable membership, but closer examination reveals that some members almost never show up, while others drift in and out. It appears that it is mainly the Legco policy panels which attract members' participation, particularly when topical and high-profile issues are discussed. However, we must recognise that a good deal of Legco business is mundane and does not get the limelight. Yet they need to be attended to all the same. In moments of frustration, some members suggested that Legco committees should have a clock-in, clock-out system like factories. Others said absentees and late-comers should be fined. Legco members are grown-ups and are expected to hold office with decorum. If they feel they have other competing interests and cannot give priority to Legco work, they should step down. What members of the public can neither understand nor accept is seeing Legco members parading around town doing other things while Legco committees are poorly attended. There is a world trend of revulsion against lazy and self-serving politicians. If we are not careful, we will stir up similar negative sentiments among Hong Kong people.