Theatrics put Legco credibility at risk
A good working relationship between Legco and the executive arm must be restored for the sake of the city’s future
When the Legislative Council began a new four-year term last October, it was seen as an opportunity to rebuild a healthy working relationship with the executive arm. Regrettably, the tension and hostility lingered on. Nine months later, the replacement of Leung Chun-ying by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as chief executive has again rekindled such hopes, although the prospect of improvement appears to be increasingly unlikely in the wake of recent political controversies.
Outraged by the disqualification of another four members, the pan-democratic camp understandably found it hard to endorse Lam’s HK$3.6 billion funding boost for education. They finally did, after much wrangling at the Finance Committee on Wednesday. The item was only put to a vote in the final moments of a marathon session that aimed to clear a backlog of funding requests before the summer recess. Members also approved another two requests, leaving five items outstanding, including pay rises for 170,000 civil servants and other public works programmes. Approval will be sought again when Legco resumes in October.
The outcome does not bode well for Lam. The approval of the education initiatives – including an annual HK$30,000 subsidy to students taking full-time self-financing tertiary courses and permanent jobs for 2,350 teachers, was probably out of concerns over a possible public backlash rather than a gesture of political goodwill. The message for Lam is clear. Even though the disqualification saga was initiated by her predecessor, it cannot be “business as usual”.
The fiasco arose from a few lawmakers not taking their oath of office properly. Whether they can win back enough seats in the by-elections that will follow the disqualifications to maintain their influence in the legislature remains to be seen. The pan-democrats may think that they cannot be seen to be too friendly towards the Lam government lest they lose support in the ballots. But as Lam argued, politics and livelihood matters should be handled separately. The public would be upset if issues that have direct impact on their livelihoods become hostages to politics.
The past eight months saw 16 hours wasted on 95 quorum counts – a common tactic by some members to stall Legco proceedings. Only 12 of the 29 legislative proposals have been approved so far. Although the use of delaying strategies appeared to be less frequent compared to the past few years, the recurrence of such antics does nothing for Legco’s image and credibility.
Legco risks becoming an arena for meaningless theatrics and bickering rather than rational debate. If the situation prevails, not only will it upset the public, but it will also hold back the city’s development. The stalemate must not be allowed to drag on.