Legco Commission members say disqualified lawmakers may not have to repay full salaries
Surprise support on Wednesday from several pro-establishment members of commission
Several key pro-establishment members of a Legislative Council’s commission have come out in support of four disqualified lawmakers paying a partial rather than full refund of their allowances, in a surprise non-partisan move.
On Monday, Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said Legco would issue the four with salary repayment bills, ranging from HK$2.7 million to HK$3.1 million per person. He said it was the Legco Commission’s duty to recover the full amount.
Leung said the four would have a “reasonable time frame” of four weeks to respond to the legal demand, after which the council would consider its next move.
His remarks sparked an outcry from the pro-democracy camp, describing it as being akin to “political persecution” as the bills would be backdated to their first day in office – October 1 last year – despite them doing their legislative work for nine months before Hong Kong’s High Court stripped them of their seats on July 14.
The four disqualified lawmakers are Nathan Law Kwun-chung, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim. They were ousted for taking their oaths of office in ways that Beijing later ruled unconstitutional when the national legislature interpreted the city’s mini-constitution last November.
However, two days after Leung’s announcement, several members of the Legco Commission clarified that they had not yet decided to demand a full repayment from the four.
“We just agreed to initiate the process by sending them the invoice, and we will further discuss after they have replied after four weeks,” Felix Chung Kwok-pan, Liberal Party leader and a member of the commission said.
“As [the four disqualified lawmakers] had really worked here and attended meetings for nine months, I personally agree that we should not recover their salaries and the money they paid for staff,” Chung said. “But they should pay back part of the advance of operating expenses.”
The bills consisted of three parts, with salaries amounting to HK$860,000 for each. Operating expense reimbursement claims for hiring staff and buying equipment ranged from HK$1.4 million to HK$1.8 million, while their advances to run their district offices were from HK$370,000 to HK$460,000.
Paul Tse Wai-chun, another pro-Beijing commission member, also agreed that there was room to negotiate on repayments, especially on salaries.
“We have to take into account law, reason and compassion,” said Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. “This is just a first step,” the vice-chairwoman of the commission said, adding that they would further discuss the matter after the four had responded.
“We agree to recover [the public money] but the bargain on how much to recover only starts after getting their replies,” Lee’s party colleague Gary Chan Hak-kan said.
Chan said there was consensus among the commission that the four should pay back the part comprising advance of operating expenses.
As for taking the four to court to recover the money, Tse, who is a solicitor, revealed that the commission was reminded in external legal advice of the “legal risks” of demanding full repayment.
“If we institute legal proceedings, we may waste public money,” Tse said, adding that further discussions would take that into account.
University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming raised doubts about the legal basis for the order, arguing the four could refer to legal principles in defence. Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, said there was no legal precedent and he believed the case would get a hearing in court.