My Take

A concession of sorts from Hong Kong’s hardball leader CY Leung

By reprioritising bills and funding requests to the Legislative Council, chief executive may have recognised the need for compromise

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 1:22am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 March, 2016, 1:22am

Leung Chun-ying’s critics have often accused him of playing hardball and pursuing a divisive agenda. They may now be disappointed. In an attempt to get the Legislative Council to pass dozens of government bills and funding requests before the summer recess, the chief executive has signalled his administration may be ready to reshuffle the order of presenting items to lawmakers for approval.

Leung said those that were urgent and related to livelihood would have priority. “The government is examining the priority and urgency of the items, and we will discuss with the Legco on reprioritising the important and livelihood-related items,” he said.

READ MORE: In race against the clock, Hong Kong’s top official wants Legco to give priority to ‘livelihood-related’ issues

That sounds like an olive branch to the pan-democrats in Legco. It’s probably not, though.

Until recently, officials have considered it their God-given right to present items to Legco in the order they want, when they want it. Lawmakers may question and scrutinise, and even hold up and reject them. But it’s considered not their business to interfere with the agenda and timing of the government’s items presented for approval.

The practice dates back to colonial times, when Legco was a rubber stamp. It might have still been practicable, but now pan-democratic lawmakers have declared an all-out legislative war with their endless filibustering and other delaying tactics.

They have proved perfectly capable of holding up a whole list of bills or funding requests if the top items are not to their liking. So if the Leung administration will “reprioritise” to present non-controversial items first, it’s a concession of sorts.

These include bills to implement tax cuts and waivers in the latest budget, to reform the Mandatory Provident Fund, and to upgrade the Hong Kong Institute of Education into a university. There are also funding requests for drainage works, hospital development projects and an elderly health care voucher scheme.

Leung is apparently doing his own reprioritising. In matters the government considers to be non-negotiable, such as the extra funding for the over-budget express railway to Guangzhou, it will play hardball by getting Legco allies who head key committees to ride roughshod over procedures.

But where compromise is possible, it may be willing to give up an age-old legislative privilege occasionally.