My Take

Pan-dems are right to want to separate wheat from the chaff

The government has bundled many public works projects into a single funding request that would allow some without any merit to proceed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 1:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 February, 2017, 1:41am

Another day, another impasse at the Legislative Council. The government wants lawmakers to quickly approve more than 9,400 public works projects worth HK$12.4 billion. The pan-democrats want to examine 26 items worth about HK$190 million involving controversial projects in Wang Chau, Lantau and the northeast New Territories.

The government has refused, saying those items must be bundled together because of contracts and work schedules. It sounds like the government is baying for a fight, hoping to blame the pan-dems for holding up funding, delaying works and killing jobs.

This is despite the fact that most other items are non-controversial, such as maintenance works for slopes, schools and roads and could be quickly approved if separated from those 26 items.

The government is being cynical, but the pan-dems have only themselves to blame. They have filibustered indiscriminately in the past three years. Having failed to pick their battles wisely, they can hardly expect much public trust.

This time around though, I can’t say I blame them. The public housing plans in Wang Chau have been drastically scaled back amid accusations that the government has craved to the demands of rural strongmen. This may or may not be true. But for lawmakers to get an accurate picture, they need time to look at the numbers.

Hong Kong government offers up 9,400 items for Legco approval, on an all-or-nothing basis

Likewise, the Lantau projects are so ambitious they would alter the face of Hong Kong’s largest island. Independent experts and activists have raised many valid criticisms and questions. They need to be answered, not ignored.

While the pan-dems are going at it, they should also cast a critical look at HK$50 million earmarked for a musical fountain in Kwun Tong. It also needs almost HK$2 million a year to maintain.

The project may sound absurd, but it has been approved by the district council there, which is dominated by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. It’s part of a one-off, HK$100 million piggy bank that every geographical district has been gifted by the government.

While it would be difficult for Legco to defy a district council decision that has gone through vetting and voting by council members, lawmakers should still name and shame those projects that look suspiciously like white elephants or a waste of public money.

Meanwhile, it behoves the government to explain why those controversial items can’t be unbundled.