A long-standing rule to remove all roadside political billboards to make way for territory-wide election publicity is being reconsidered by the government, sparking criticism that officials were ready to overturn established convention to satisfy a few government allies. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung told the Legislative Council's panel on constitutional affairs yesterday that the government will decide next week whether to stick to the plan to remove roadside billboards displayed by incumbent lawmakers and district councillors in the run-up to the Legco by-election on May 16. Legislators from the pan-democratic and government-friendly camp who attended the panel on constitutional affairs yesterday were divided on whether to exempt serving lawmakers and district councillors from the existing requirement that all roadside billboards have to be removed before an election. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, independent lawmaker and chairwoman of the Savantas Policy Institute, said she and two district councillors from her think centre had spent a total of HK$37,000 to remove their 175 roadside billboards. Lawmaker Ip Kwok-him, who represents the district councils functional constituency, said the move was a total waste of manpower and money. All lawmakers and district councillors should have removed their billboards by last Monday at their own cost, or the government would bill them for their removal. The Civic Party and the League of Social Democrats, who triggered the polls when five of their members resigned from the legislature in January, see the election as a de facto referendum on the pace and scope of democratisation. But Beijing sees it as a blatant challenge to the Basic Law and the central government's authority. Amid complaints from government-friendly lawmakers, the government suggested allowing serving lawmakers and district councillors to keep their roadside billboards in place during the by-election. Whatever policy is adopted will also apply in future by-elections. But Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said the government should not depart from a long-standing practice simply because of complaints from some legislators. 'If the government changes its mind, it's like changing the rules of the game in the second half of a football match. It's unfair for those colleagues who had removed their billboards,' he said. Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing warned the government could face a judicial review if it did not stick to the current practice. Lam said he noted that most of the lawmakers who spoke at the meeting favoured the option of allowing incumbent legislators to keep their billboards in place. The government would make a decision by the end of next week, the minister said.