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Hong Kong high-speed rail

Up to 100 Hong Kong civil groups can air views on joint checkpoint plan ... but each speaker gets only 3 minutes

Marathon public consultation set to take place as lawmakers seek to pass bill in time for terminus launch

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 8:08am

As many as 100 civil groups can air their views on the controversial joint checkpoint plan to Hong Kong officials during a seven-hour session next week as lawmakers race to vet and push through a bill on the rail link arrangement by July.

The March 17 public hearing, part of a series of marathon meetings scheduled before the end of April, will only allow each representative some three minutes to complete a presentation, with other portions of the session allocated for breaks and for officials to respond.

It is not known how many groups have signed up for the hearing. 

In what is seen as a move to delay the bill, opposition lawmakers have demanded that the three ministers in charge of the joint checkpoint project – transport minister Frank Chan Fan, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu and justice chief Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah – be present or the public hearing would be postponed.

Meanwhile, pro-establishment legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who chairs the Legislative Council committee examining the so-called co-location bill, is trying to squeeze as many as 13 meeting sessions between now and the end of April, to get work done as soon as possible.

Ip said they had set aside seven hours for the coming marathon public hearing, which is expected to be attended by Frank Chan and officials from the Justice Department and Security Bureau.

She estimated they could entertain about 100 representatives from civil groups, given the usual practice of allowing each to speak for three minutes.

Controversial joint checkpoint plan approved for high-speed rail link as Hong Kong officials dismiss concerns over legality

“If needed, we may consider arranging another public hearing at a later time,” Ip said, denying she was under pressure to meet a deadline given by the government to bulldoze the bill, tabled in January, through Legco. 

The arrangement would allow mainland immigration and customs officers to enforce national laws in a zone leased to them at the Hong Kong terminus of the cross-border high-speed rail link in West Kowloon. 

Critics raised concerns over the plan breaching the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, which states that mainland laws shall not apply in the city. Officials argued the arrangement was for the convenience of passengers.

The Hong Kong government has pushed for the bill to be passed in Legco before the summer break in July to be in time for the opening of the rail link in the third quarter of the year. 

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, who is also convenor of the Co-location Concern Group, said: “The co-location issue is an important issue. Many people, including professional groups, want their views heard by top officials. 

“If the three ministers cannot be available to attend the public hearing, I think we should reschedule it.” 

The bills committee already met two times in February. Two sessions have been scheduled for Tuesday, and another session on Friday next week.

Ip, an executive councillor who is also from the pro-establishment New People’s Party, said she would limit the time for speakers to raise questions during meetings to prevent pan-democrats filibustering.

“I am not saying that I will ban a committee member from raising questions. But irrelevant or repetitive questions will be disallowed to maintain order and also to be fair to other members at the meeting,” Ip said.