A welcome sense of order while it lasts

Give-and-take between two opposing blocs in the Legislative Council, particularly when it comes to reshuffling items on the agenda, makes a pleasant change 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 2:36am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2018, 2:36am

Suddenly, there is much give-and-take between the two opposing blocs in the legislature. With HK$11 billion handouts to the needy after a government U-turn on the budget, there is even cross-party criticism about the way it’s being arranged. It may be just a temporary truce, but it’s not insignificant.

The most long-lasting, I would argue, is an agreed upon overhaul of a Legco practice dating from the colonial era that may have a profound effect on the use of filibustering and other delaying tactics by the opposition.

Pan-democrats agree to speed up some Legco bills to ease backlog

Legislative Council Finance Committee chairman Chan Kin-por has met opposition members to decide how the committee’s agenda could be reshuffled to ease the backlog of government funding applications. There is a general consensus across the political aisle that uncontroversial items relating to housing and welfare funding should be put at the top of the agenda to speed up their approval.

Among these are funding for the reconstruction of Grantham, Queen Mary and Kwong Wah hospitals.

Now, you may think this is just common sense. But previous refusals by the government to reshuffle items had been the bone of contention that, to a large extent, enabled filibustering and other delaying tactics such as quorum counts and tabling stacks of amendments.

It all began with the British treatment of a rubber-stamp Legco. The colonial government submitted agenda items the way it wanted and in the order it wanted, and there was nothing lawmakers could do about it.

Unsurprisingly, the post-1997 government was more than happy to continue this colonial tradition. The previous administration of Leung Chun-ying had flat out refused to consider alternatives, saying Legco business could be severely compromised otherwise.

Well, it did worsen. Some smart cookies such as former anti-communist lawmaker Wong Yuk-man figured out that the government practice, far from empowering the executive branch, actually made delaying tactics even more effective. This is because if you block the top items, you are effectively holding up the entire agenda; hence the massive backlog in Legco.

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The government under Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has smartened up. At least with non-controversial issues such as those related to livelihood and welfare funding, lawmakers on the Finance Committee should be able to reshuffle items.

Realising indiscriminate delaying has caused a good deal of collateral damage, the opposition is more willing to play ball, for now. We will see how long this lasts.