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Wednesday, July 20, 2016, 01:14

Filibusters have dragged down LegCo: Ip Kwok-him

By Joseph Li
Filibusters have dragged down LegCo: Ip Kwok-him

Veteran lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said he is most upset that the 2012-16 legislative term was plagued by destructive filibusters and disturbances. (Roy Liu / China Daily)

Ip Kwok-him, who first became a legislator in 1995, has some suggestions on how to curb rampant filibustering tactics adopted by opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong’s legislature.

As a veteran lawmaker, Ip said he is most upset that the 2012-16 legislative term was plagued by destructive filibusters and disturbances. Although the legislature made some achievements, it got out of control and was paralyzed by the opposition camp, he told China Daily during an exclusive interview.

He believes President of the Legislative Council Jasper Tsang Yok-sing took effective steps to tackle filibusters by stipulating the number of hours during the debate on the 2016-17 Budget. The limit covers the time for ringing the bells and voting.

“He has shown great wisdom in tackling filibusters appropriately, though not perfectly,” Ip said.

“During the term, 18 meetings were aborted due to lack of quorum, but the opposition felt no (sense of guilt). The LegCo has let Hong Kong people down and that’s why our image is rather low in people’s minds.”

Ip notes that in parliaments of some foreign countries, the quorum bell is not used as a tool for filibustering and wasting time. For most of the time, the chambers are almost empty, with only the parliamentary speaker and a lawmaker who makes a speech staying there.

Various methods, including the stipulation of a time limit, are used to stop filibusters. But the “pan-democrats” in Hong Kong oppose the time motion.

“What they demand is a motion passed by a two-thirds majority at both the House Committee and the LegCo plenary meeting.

“They are just cheating us because the pro-establishment camp does not have a two-thirds majority but the opposition has more than one-third of the lawmakers (27 out of 70) and they will always win if this method is used,” Ip said.

In recent months, the quorum bell has been greatly abused – just like medical constituency lawmaker Leung Ka-lau dragged down the Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 on the last days of the current term.

“The problem will remain unresolved for some time because the quorum is stipulated as half of the number of lawmakers in the Basic Law. However there are arguments that the Basic Law has not said if the quorum is required throughout the meeting or during whole committee stage.

“I guess the matter will be brought to court for clarification by way of judicial review, and may possibly be brought to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for interpretation of the legislative intent of such provision.”

Ip also thinks that the Finance Committee, where filibusterers wreak havoc, needs to put matters right via amendments to its meeting procedures.

At present, proposals are discussed and endorsed by the Establishment Subcommittee and Public Works Subcommittee before they are tabled to the Finance Committee. The proposals are discussed fully by subcommittees. But opposition lawmakers continue to ask endless questions and mess around with the procedures at the Finance Committee to delay funding.

“It has been suggested that proposals shall be put to vote at the Finance Committee without further discussions after they are endorsed by subcommittees.

“Alternatively, the two subcommittees may be cancelled to shorten the procedure,’’ Ip said.

“Also, the number of motions that lawmakers can move at the Finance Committee meeting without prior notice shall be limited to one only, or a reasonable number,” he said.

Ip adds that revision to the Finance Committee Procedure is not difficult. This is because only a simple majority at the meeting is required without the need of going through the LegCo plenary meeting.

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