Democrats trade barbs with Arthur Li, with one lawmaker comparing the legislation with US invasion of Iraq The school management reform bill was passed last night after a stormy exchange in Legco, with one lawmaker comparing the legislation with the US invasion of Iraq. During a full day of debating, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, the secretary for education and manpower, accused Democratic Party members of opposing the bill to secure votes in the Legislative Council elections in September. The Education (Amendment) Bill 2002 - which requires schools to set up incorporated management committees (IMCs) that include elected teacher and parent representatives by 2012 - was passed after 29 of the 50 legislators voted for it in the third reading. The rest all voted against. Currently, most school management committees are formed by members directly appointed by sponsoring bodies. Under the bill, the Education and Manpower Bureau also has the right to appoint members to the committee if it finds problems with the management of a school. All amendments proposed by the democrats to lessen the bureau's grip on schools were voted down or sidelined yesterday. Democratic Party legislator Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the education sector, said: 'Being high-handed in the policy, the government can take over schools which do not set up an IMC. It's like the invasion of Iraq by the US.' Although Mr Cheung supports more accountability in schools, he proposed last month that the bill should become compulsory only after the reform had proved successful when reviewed in 2008. The Catholic Church, which runs more than 300 schools, said: 'The government has irresponsibly caused much damage to our education work by creating divisions between the sponsoring bodies and parents and teachers by making it appear as if we are against school-based management.' The church also attacked Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa for keeping himself aloof from the issue, and Professor Li for making 'personal attacks' on people in the sponsoring bodies. Professor Li said: 'The democrats are opposing for the sake of opposition, and disrupting the [meeting] for the sake of disruption.' He said he would be happy to meet the sponsoring bodies to discuss the issue. 'Cheung Man-kwong was a sweet talker and I was almost persuaded by him. But I realised that, unlike the church, parents are unable to mobilise voters to support the democrats.' Pro-government legislators accused the Democratic Party of switching its stance on the issue, but Mr Cheung said they only wanted to prevent the government from manipulating schools. The Anglican church's sponsoring board, the Sheng Kung Hui, said it would not adopt the bill and might take legal action. Timothy Ha Wing-ho, education secretary of the body, said there was a strong diversity among schools and the government should not require them all to follow one management model. 'We have established a successful partnership between schools and parents for 150 years. I am sure that quite soon, the government will realise the errors they have made.' But other established sponsoring bodies, such as the Po Leung Kuk, and some parent groups, welcomed the bill. Cheung Kwok-wah, chairman of the Home-School Co-operation Committee, said the government was moving in the right direction by including more stakeholders in the committees.