Devil in the detail for outraged DAB lawmakers

  • Members of the government’s reliable political ally in the legislature have feigned shock at a welfare move they voted for, perhaps next time they will read the bill
PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 4:46pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2019, 10:50pm

When you habitually rubber-stamp government bills, you shouldn’t complain that officials treat you like a doormat.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the dominant political party in the Legislative Council, has consistently been the government’s most reliable ally. But for once, its lawmakers feign outrage as the government raises the qualifying age for an elderly welfare payment by five years to 65, effectively reducing it by a third to new recipients from next month.

Here’s a government move that has been opposed by parties across the political aisle. In a previous column, yours truly thought it was a bad idea, too, as it could worsen poverty among the elderly. Yet, mysteriously, the government managed to have it passed in Legco way back in May with hardly a voice raised. Now, everyone in Legco is making noises, but it’s too late.

Replying in the Legco chamber this week, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor seemed to shock many people when she expressed “shock” that lawmakers now raised objections when they themselves had approved the revised payment scheme.

Lam has a point. However, DAB lawmaker Elizabeth Quat said her party was “shocked” by Lam’s statement. “We have at many times and occasions reflected our opposition,” Quat said. “The DAB strongly opposed this policy.”

Yes, but you and your party colleagues all voted for the appropriation bill in which the revised scheme was included. Suddenly, they are saying the government was playing tricks. Now, that’s news.

Welfare sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun complained that the policy change took up a single section in more than 900 pages of documents. In other words, they didn’t read the fine print. Maybe the government should have printed it in bold type. Then again, you would hardly expect officials to advertise what they knew was unpopular.

Since we are paying lawmakers almost HK$100,000 a month, not counting all sorts of perks and subsidies, is it too much to expect them to study the fine print for us? Scrutinising the government budget is one of the few ways left for an emasculated Legco to exercise oversight.

I have more sympathy for the opposition; most of them either abstained or voted against the appropriation bill. But when members of the pro-establishment bloc voted for it, government officials naturally took it for granted.

Didn’t they know the devil is in the detail?