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Friday, July 15, 2016, 23:56

Quorum calls reach record highs in LegCo: Tsang

By Shadow Li

HONG KONG - Calls for a quorum and adjourned meetings have reached a record-high in the four years of current-term Legislative Council, said LegCo President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing in concluding remarks on Friday, the last day of the legislative term.

In its four-year term, the LegCo assembly was adjourned 18 times owing to filibustering by the opposition camp, with 11 of them happening during the past year.

Quorum calls, exceeding 600 times in the past year alone, became the principal tactic behind the opposition camp’s filibustering.

This LegCo term wasted about 220 hours on 1,478 quorum calls, amounting to losses ranging from HK$38 million to HK$47.5 million. The hourly expenditure of the council meetings has increased from HK$173,000 in 2012-13 to HK$216,000 in 2015-16.

Tsang admitted that the performance of this legislative term has fallen short of public expectations.

Calling for a quorum, which takes almost no time and effort to prepare, has become a common political tactic, forcing lawmakers to stay in the chamber. The majority of the lawmakers have tried their best to fulfill their duties as legislators, Tsang added.

The only way to change the frequent filibusters is to change the Rules of Procedure, said Tsang. The veteran lawmaker warned that if things remain unchanged, everyone, including the government, the legislature and the society, will lose.

The public expects a functional government based on the checks and balances between the government and the legislature, as well as constructive interaction between the two branches to formulate policies bearing the best interest of the public, said Tsang.

Tsang pointed out that LegCo also witnessed many other unexpected records over the past four years. This included dealing with a colossal number of 110,000 amendments, having the longest meeting time of up to 2,170 hours - much longer than previous terms because extra meetings had to be added to make up for the time wasted by filibusters - and witnessing the shock of several attacks by protesters. Some of the protesters had even tried to break into LegCo by knocking down the door.

Noting the government and the opposition camp are at odds and have difficulty in communicating with each other, the outgoing leader of the legislature expressed his regret at being unable to “establish a more productive relationship between various parties”.

It is unfair to always blame the government as the cause for the filibusters, as those from the opposition camp who filibuster did so because they knew their camp was in the minority in the council. If the bill was put to vote, it would have majority support and get passage. So the filibustering lawmakers adopted this tactic to stall the legislative agenda, Tsang explained.

A responsible government should not just back down and shelf a bill in the face of every filibuster because the government’s unreasonable backtracking would be unfair to residents and lawmakers who support the bill, he said.

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