Why Hong Kong people should support move to end filibustering in Legislative Council
Tony Kwok laments the time and money wasted by opposition legislators who take advantage of chamber rules to block government proposals that many ordinary people would welcome. It’s time to rewrite those rules
If one has to name a single factor why Hong Kong is losing its competitiveness vis-à-vis its neighbouring cities, such as Singapore and Shenzhen, many people are likely to blame our legislature’s filibustering problem.
Just look at the facts. In the year 2016/17, only 12 of the government’s 29 proposed bills were passed. Many of these bills involved enhancing the development of Hong Kong.
In that year, opposition party members of the Legislative Council called for quorum counts on 95 occasions, wasting many hours set aside for debates. It is sad that these legislators forgot their basic duty as lawmakers, and intentionally absented themselves to force an adjournment of the meeting due to the lack of a quorum.
Because of their filibustering, the Finance Committee approved only HK$58 billion of the HK$130 billion needed that year for construction projects that had been approved by the public works subcommittee. In the past, the Finance Committee took an average of two hours to approve one item; last year, it needed an average of 4.2 hours to do the same.
In one case during the 2015/16 legislative year, a filibustering lawmaker representing the medical sector single-handedly succeeded in scuppering a government bill to restructure the Medical Council. Without such reform, there is little hope of relaxing the Medical Council’s high entry bar for foreign-trained doctors, and Hong Kong hospitals continue to suffer from a shortage of manpower.
It was saddening to learn from a recent report by the Audit Commission that a sizeable part of the North Lantau Hospital has been left unused due to a shortage of staff.
Another case in point is the recent debate on the government’s non-binding motion to set up a joint checkpoint for the high-speed rail linking Hong Kong and the mainland. The actual time members spoke on this debate was 8½ hours, while 15½ hours were wasted because of opposition filibustering. Lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick even went to the extreme of putting up a motion to bar the media from the chamber for the debate, for the sole purpose of delaying a vote. As a result, he has been accused of suppressing press freedom. His stupid act clearly showed that the opposition parties have lost their common sense.
In a recent Letter to Hong Kong episode on RTHK radio, legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan revealed that, as chairman of the Finance Committee in 2014/15, he spent the first three months handling financial proposals that were carried forward from the previous legislative session, thanks to the filibustering. Funding for these projects was approved six months later, but the amount had risen by an additional HK$2.8 billion, due to inflation. “This is your money, thrown down the drain unnecessarily,” he said.
For these reasons, the public should welcome the proposal by pro-establishment legislators to amend the Legco procedural rules. It should be emphasised that the intention is not to shut the opposition up, as healthy debates are encouraged. Rather, the goal is to reduce the meaningless waste of time on filibustering and other delaying tactics. Indeed, most of the amendments will be based on the best practices used in the parliaments in the UK, Canada and Australia.
The opposition in Legco can be expected to put up a strong fight against any proposed changes.
Thus, the pro-establishment legislators should try their utmost to mobilise support from Hong Kong people for the rules change.
Legislators should launch a major campaign to highlight the ills of filibustering – through marches, petitions and other activities. They should bring attention to those who have been hurt by the filibustering, such as the tens of thousands of construction workers whose livelihoods have been affected by the delay in funding approval for various projects; the concern groups who have been advocating for Medical Council reform; the 180,000 civil servants whose pay rise this year was delayed because of filibustering; and the many families who will have to wait longer for a new home because opposition legislators object to the government’s every proposal to find land for building flats; and the frequent commuters to the mainland who want to see the co-location arrangements in place in the high-speed railway terminus.
Hongkongers should stop being a silent majority and make their voices heard. They should tell the opposition legislators that they will be voted out in the next election if they try to block the rule amendments.
The upcoming proposal to change Legco rules is of paramount importance to the future development of Hong Kong. If we fail to amend the rules, and legislators continue to filibuster every government proposal, Hong Kong will probably be finished.
Tony Kwok is an adjunct professor at HKU Space and a council member of the Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies