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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Legco legal advisers failed to ensure president fulfilled constitutional duties, former lawmaker Margaret Ng says

Barrister also calls for pro-democracy allies to restore public faith by communicating with the people instead of staging physical confrontations in chamber

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 10:41am

A former lawmaker who has represented Hong Kong’s lawyers for 18 years has hit out at legal advisers to the head of the city’s legislature and accused them of failing to ensure he fulfils his constitutional duties by keeping the government in check.

Civic Party member and barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee also said her pro-democracy allies in the Legislative Council had “lost their way” by overly focusing on physical confrontations in the chamber, when they should have stepped up efforts in communicating with civil society.

Ng’s comments came in an interview for her published memoir, Under the Keystone – My 18-year Political Life. The book looks back on her stint as the city’s legal sector lawmaker from 1995 to 2012, in which she made considerable effort to strengthen Legco’s independent secretariat.

“Certainly I am very disappointed in Legco’s legal division. I think they have a poor effect on the Legco president,” Ng told the Post, referring to Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who is from the pro-establishment Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong.

“All legal advisers – be they for the government or Legco – should always remind the president or the government of its obligation under the law and constitution.

Certainly I am very disappointed in Legco’s legal division. They have a poor effect on its president
Margaret Ng, former lawmaker

“It is not just a question of whether the law allows you to do certain things, but whether what you are doing is in line with the constitutional principle,” Ng said.

According to her, since Leung took the post two years ago, he had failed to ensure Legco performed its number one function – to check and balance the executive branch.

Earlier this year, the pro-establishment bloc successfully pushed for a series of changes to Legco’s rule book which would effectively curb filibustering. This followed the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for improper oaths of office.

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In June, Leung gave colleagues two weeks to scrutinise the so-called co-location bill, which would allow mainland legislation to be enforced in sections of the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link to Guangzhou. It was passed amid chaos and strong opposition from pan-democrats and legal scholars, who argued it was unconstitutional.

Despite her criticisms, she dismissed suggestions Legco had already been rendered useless, but said she hoped her peers would adopt more effective strategies in the fight.

Ng called on all to break out of what she deemed a vicious cycle, in which pan-democrats had lost their credibility in civil society for their failure to push through policy changes, which had further reinforced efforts by officials to snub their calls.

To do something just because you cannot think of anything better to do is acting from a position of weakness
Margaret Ng

In the face of an administration which “had no say on how to govern Hong Kong” under Beijing’s influence, Ng said many of her allies had resorted to physical protests inside the chamber or filibustering to show their electorates that they had tried their best – a method she described as unfruitful.

The barrister argued that filibustering should only be used after much consideration.

“To do something just because you cannot think of anything better to do is acting from a position of weakness,” she said.

For her peers who advocate closer communication with the government, Ng had equally harsh words: “What have you achieved? You ended up being controlled by the government.”

Instead, pan-democrats should restore faith by strengthening communication with civil society, Ng said.

Citing the camp’s previous success in forcing the government to shelve the national security bill in 2003 and the copyright amendment bill in 2016, Ng said it was always protesters on the streets who gave the battle a strong boost.

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She called on Hongkongers to shake off the sense of powerlessness that had lingered in them in recent years.

“It is so much easier [for the government] to demoralise you so you won’t do anything, but in fact you don’t have to succumb,” she said. “The power of the people has always been here, and it is massive.”