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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Probing Hong Kong officials could become harder as pro-government party plots changes to rules, citing ‘abuse’ of system

DAB chairwoman Starry Lee suggests raising the number of lawmakers who must call for a new committee

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 3:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 12:35pm

The leader of Hong Kong’s biggest pro-establishment political party has proposed making it harder to investigate government officials and their decisions, saying the procedure has been “abused” by rivals.

The suggestion by Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), came as opposing camps in the Legislative Council locked horns on proposals to change its rules to curb filibustering in the chamber.

The power wielded by pan-democrat lawmakers was significantly weakened before the new legislative year began last week, when a court removed six pro-democracy members for improperly taking their oaths of office.

Their reduced number has opened a window of opportunity for pro-establishment legislators to change the rules of procedure before by-elections to fill the vacant seats in March.

Legco currently has 64 members after the disqualifications, 24 of them pan-democrats.

Under Legco rules, lawmakers need majority support in the chamber to set up a select committee with the power to summon anyone to give evidence. But they can launch a select committee without such power with a petition signed by just 20 lawmakers.

Lee on Tuesday suggested raising that number to 35 – half of the council’s full membership.

“It usually requires half of the lawmakers to launch a probe, but … the current ‘petition’ arrangement has yet to comply with this standard,” she said.

“We believe the committee on rules of procedure needs to study ways to make this arrangement more reasonable.”

The last time a select committee with the power to summon anyone was launched was in February 2012. It was formed at the request of both the pan-democratic and pro-government camps to probe the involvement of Leung Chun-ying, then a candidate to be Hong Kong’s leader, in a development plan competition related to the West Kowloon Cultural District, an arts hub.

Since then, the pan-democratic camp has filed petitions to trigger probes into the city’s former chief graft-buster Timothy Tong Hin-ming as well as Leung’s receipt of HK$50 million from Australian engineering firm UGL before he became Hong Kong chief executive in 2012.

Leung Chun-ying suggests he will not answer to Legco probe into HK$50 million UGL payout

Leung repeatedly accused pan-democrats of abusing Legco rules to discredit him.

Lee dismissed a suggestion that her proposal was inspired by those criticisms from Leung.

“There is no particular incident [that inspired this],” she said. “The rules of procedure have been abused on many occasions in the past, so we believe we should study … ways to amend them.”

Lee was speaking after more than 20 pro-establishment lawmakers met ally and Legco Finance Committee chair Chan Kin-por on Tuesday to discuss his plans to issue two orders to curb filibustering against government funding applications this week.

‘I’ll curb Legco filibusters unless you can convince me otherwise,’ finance panel chairman warns

Chan said he had the power to implement the orders without discussing them with the committee on rules of procedure.

But lawmaker Charles Mok, convenor of the pro-democracy camp, said his bloc had boycotted the meeting.

“Any change to our rules must be discussed in the committee,” Mok said.

Separately, current Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Tuesday that she hoped lawmakers would discuss amendments to the rules of procedure “rationally”.

“I also find the rules very outdated,” she said.