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Friday, September 2, 2016, 00:17

New statistics reveal cost of opposition's filibustering tactics


HONG KONG - As the city is approaching its decisive Legislative Council on Sunday, the endless filibustering tactics used by the “pan-democrats” in the last legislative term has been one of the major concerns of voters.

LegCo Secretariat statistics showed that out of the 2,186 legislative working hours during the 2012-16 term, 452 hours were wasted due to quorum calls and aborted meetings.

Considering that an HK$216,000 per hour average expenditure on LegCo operations, a total of HK$97.6 million were lost, a record amount, according to a recent report by local Chinese newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

The past four years also saw adjournments of LegCo sessions 18 times, which wasted 229 hours, the report showed.

Calling a quorum in the city's legislature is a lawmaker's right provided by the LegCo's Rules of Procedure.

However, this was constantly abused by some opposition lawmakers to delay and obstruct debates and voting on government proposals. According to Article 75 of the Basic Law, LegCo meetings require a quorum of “not less than one half of its members". Since 2012, the quorum requirement has been 35.

This differs considerably from other jurisdictions. According to China Daily research, the upper house of the British Parliament only requires three people out of 780 to appear at a discussion while the House of Commons has no such threshold.

In Australia, the House of Representatives requires only 20 percent of all members to be present while the figure for the senate stands at 25 percent. In Canada, the requirement is 20 out of 338 members in the House of Commons, and 15 out of 105 members in the Senate. This makes it harder to block meetings.

The Ta Kung Pao report also listed several delayed infrastructure projects including waste disposal facilities, schools, sports venues and noise barriers.

The legislative year 2013-14 alone saw 27 projects delayed, according to Ceajer Chan Ka-keung, secretary for financial services and treasury in a question and answer session in LegCo.

Moreover, the long-awaited Innovation and Technology Bureau was also delayed for more than three years due to filibustering.

The Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014 and Medical Registration (Amendment) Bill 2016 had to be shelved until the next LegCo term.

According to Wong Kwok-hing, a lawmaker from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, an estimated HK$270 million was wasted due to cost hikes during delays. This can translate into a one-month allowance bonus for 1.2 million welfare recipients in Hong Kong.

The report also listed several delaying tactics of the opposition camp, including stalling a vote by purposely delivering long-winded speeches, proposing a large number of meaningless committee stage amendments, moving a motion without notice in Finance Committee meetings for the sole purpose of filibustering.

They even prevented pro-establishment lawmakers from attending the meeting by various means including pressing all the buttons in a lift, the report said, citing previous news articles.

Such tactics had been used more than once. Two members from the opposition camp confessed to deliberately attempting to obstruct lawmakers from entering the legislative chamber in time to form a quorum in April 2013.

They did this by repeatedly pressing all buttons of a lift inside the LegCo building. The two defendants, after confessing to the offence, were fined HK$4,500, the report added.

Meanwhile, according to LegCo records, the average rate of absence among 27 opposition lawmakers reached 76 percent in the 2012-16 term, almost double the absenteeism rate of pro-establishment legislators at 38.5 percent.

This means in average less than seven of the 27 opposition members in LegCo were present when meetings had to be adjourned.

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