The “Pearl Harbor of LegCo”

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On December 7, 1941, the Japanese dealt a devastating blow to the American Pacific fleet. On October 4, the pan-dems dive bombed the pro-establishment LegCo forces. HT gets into the war machines on both sides.


Just right before the registration deadline last month, the entire Pan-Democratic camp applied to join the Public Works Subcommittee and the Establishment Subcommittee, which are both under the Legislative Council Finance Committee. By forming the majority of each Committee, they were able to take the Chair and Deputy Chair seats in both critical committees that act as gatekeepers to the Finance Committee. The Pro-Establishment faction was unhappy that the Pan-Dems broke from the established ​​coordination mechanisms and retaliated by blocking Pan-Dems from Chair and Deputy Chair positions in almost every other committee. It is only the beginning of this LegCo session and the confrontation between the Pan-Dem and Pro-Establishment camps has already escalated.

Break from the past

The 23 Pan-Dem “Lunchbox Meeting” members applied to join the Public Works Subcommittee and Establishment Subcommittee just moments before the deadline. In the last term, the Establishment Subcommittee had 18 legislators, with Pan-Dems only holding 6 of those seats. This year, members increased to 40, of whom 26 are Pan-Dems. The Public Works Subcommittee has 46 members of whom 26 are Pan-Dems, up from 11 out of 32 last term. Under the “simple majority” principle, Alan Leong and Kenneth Leung, both Pan-Democrats, successfully took the Chair seats of the Public Works Subcommittee and the Establishment Subcommittee respectively. Both subcommittees are under the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, where the Public Works Subcommittee is responsible for examining and making recommendations to the Finance Committee on the Government’s expenditure proposals under the Capital Works Reserve Fund for projects in the public works programme and building projects; the Establishment Subcommittee is responsible for examining and making recommendations to the Finance Committee on the Government’s proposals for the creation, redeployment, and deletion of directorate posts, and for changes to the structure of civil service grades and ranks.

Establishment Subcommittee Chairman Kenneth Leung explains, “‘Lunchbox Meeting’ members made the decision to all join the two subcommittees a few days before the beginning of the current LegCo year”. Leung, who was also the Deputy Chairman of the Establishment Subcommittee in the previous term, states that the most important change of this “surprise offensive” is in the Public Works Subcommittee rather than the Establishment Subcommittee.

“The agreement has always been that I would take the Chair of the Establishment Subcommittee this year and the next. It’s there [in communications between the groups] in black and white.” The Pan-Dems and Pro-Establishment always had a coordination mechanism in the past where the Pro-Establishment faction has been able to take most of the Chair seats since it is larger in numbers. Kenneth Leung said that taking the two Chair positions this time did not mean that the Pan-Dems were breaking ties with the establishment faction on purpose, “In fact, the main function of the Public Works Subcommittee and Establishment Subcommittee is to provide advice to the Finance Committee. We just want to be able to perform our role of monitoring the Government within these two groups.”

The Government can chase for money all they want, of course we have to resist them.
Claudia Mo

During the handling of the funding for the North East New Territories Development plan last term, Neighbourhood Workers Service Centre’s Leung Yiu-chung was ordered to leave the meeting chamber by then Finance Committee Chairman Ng Leung-sing after insisting on raising a point of order. Leung Yiu-chung pointed out that, while the two important subcommittees do not carry actual power to approve funding, “the Pan-Democrats will not recklessly force bills through bills if they can Chair. If a member wishes to speak, they should be allowed to when possible.” He says the Pro-Establishment faction have always tried to hastily get things through, disregarding the spirit, role and responsibility of the legislative assembly. “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who is not part of the “Lunchbox Meetings”, believes the Pan-Dems should have done this long before, “by placing everyone into committees would strategically exhaust the Pro-Establishment. But of course the cost is also very high.”

Payback’s a switch

Seeing that Pan-Dems did not “abide by the agreement,” the Pro-Establishment lawmakers decided to compete for the positions of Chair and Deputy Chair in multiple committees.
In the end, the Pan-Dems were only able to secure Chair positions in four committees, including the Public Works and Establishment Subcommittees. The Pro-Establishment were about to take revenge with their numerical superiority, sweeping the rest of the Chair and Deputy Chair positions of various panels, including Constitutional Affairs, Security, Manpower, Transport and Commerce and Industry. DAB vice-chairman Starry Lee says the Pro-Establishment camp had initially hoped to maintain the gentleman’s agreement, “We understand that society does not want the legislative assembly to become a partisan struggle. So, even though the Pan-Democrats initially claimed they would not follow the agreement, we did not want to make it even more of a confrontation, so we deliberately refrained from stuffing the panels with our people.”

When the Pro-Establishment camp saw the Pan-Democrats deliberately fill the two important committees at the last minute to initiate a non-cooperation movement through securing the Chair and Deputy Chair seats, they decided to “defend the assembly”, and fight for the main say in a number of boards.

“A large group of legislators were very angry. In order to prevent LegCo from reaching the verge of being inoperational, we all saw what needed to happened. Of course I can’t say it wasn’t out of spite, but as Pro-Establishment legislators, of course we couldn’t let them paralyze LegCo”. When asked about voices from within the Pro-Establishment camp saying Ip Kwok-him, who was responsible for coordinating with the Pan-Dems, was at fault, Lee revealed that after seeing two committees being “occupied” at the last minute, “Internally, we all had different opinions, but I believe the critical point was when the Pan-Dems decided to not abide by the agreement.”

Starry Lee pointed out that the Pan-Dems, by securing the majority in both the Public Works Subcommittee and the Establishment Subcommittee, could pose a serious threat, or even paralyze the government, “We all know that a lot of the time, government policies are linked to resources and manpower. Money and manpower is the most important. If they paralyze everything, decide to use filibuster tactics on everything, projects that society has long waited for, such as speeding up the construction of university dormitories, may be delayed.” She says the people will be the ultimate victims of the Pan-Dem’s acts of non-cooperation, “the general public would not agree with the opposition using people’s livelihood as hostage, forcing government to make concessions on political reform or other issues.”

Fighting their way back in

Pro-Establishment legislators are now applying to join the Establishment Subcommittee and Public Works Subcommittee. The Establishment Subcommittee has only had one meeting so far and has yet to discuss the relevant issues. 12 Pro-Establishment legislators applied to join the Public Works Subcommittee after the deadline. The Public Works Subcommittee decided to hold a special session on the 11th to handle the additional late applications.
Some Pro-Establishment lawmakers consider this additional meeting unnecessary. It is understood that Pro-Establishment lawmakers will later make a request through the Finance Committee to grant them membership of the Subcommittees according to the rules of procedure, allowing them to join after the deadline.

Wong Kwok Hing, who is himself a member of the Public Works Subcommittee, described the Pan-Dem’s “surprise attack” as the “Pearl Harbor of LegCo”. He believes that the Pan-Dem camp insisted on holding a special meeting to keep Pro-Establishment lawmakers from joining the committees, “I think asking those who handed their application late to explain themselves in a special meeting is deliberately trying to make things difficult. Putting these Pro-Establishment lawmakers on a public trial in the form of a meeting, is neither fair nor just.” He stated that the Pro-Establishment camp will not attend the special meeting, “We’ve stated our reasons enough. You either approve the application or you don’t. There is no reason to put us on a public trial.”

Another member of the Public Works Subcommittee Christopher Chung believes that the Chairman should allow members to join unconditionally because it is their duty, “depriving others of the right to speak, is contrary to the original intent of representative government”. Chung says that this incident is an ironic example of the Pan-Democrats’ betrayal of their so-called democratic ideals. He expects the Pan-Democrats to create many obstacles to stop government work from passing, “especially some of the Public Works they dislike, such as the Liantang Control Point, or even funding for the high-speed rail project. Everything that has to do with mainland people’s livelihood-related matters, they will likely disregard public opinion to suppress or oppose [these projects].”

Past sins revisited

Last June, Albert Chan Wai-yip applied to the Establishment Subcommittee after the deadline in order to replace Leung Kwok-hung, who was imprisoned at the time, to “filibuster” in the committee. However, strongly opposed by the then Pro-Establishment legislators, his application ultimately fell through. Leung Kwok-hung says that it is impossible to allow Pro-Establishment lawmakers to join as “they did not allow Chan to take [his] place then”. He says, “Rules of Procedure state that they must have special reasons. I was in prison at the time so obviously I couldn’t attend meetings, making it a very special reason, and yet it still wasn’t approved. Why should it be this time around?”. Albert Chan says that even if the Pro-Establishment members were eventually allowed to join the two boards via the Finance Committee, “by commencing with meetings in the meantime, we can still fend them off for some time”.

Pan-Dems have already warned that they will block government funding in the coming year, and carry out acts of non-cooperation through questioning or filibustering. That being said, less controversial measures affecting people’s livelihood will still be allowed through “humanitarian channels” to let the motion pass as soon as possible. Claudia Mo, says “[the Pan-Dems] are not here to mess things up completely”. She assures, “We will have “humanitarian channels. The Government can chase for money all they want, and of course we have to resist them. We will certainly let through other issues such as low-income families allowances, civil service pay raises, etc”.

Selective Obstruction

Public Works Subcommittee Chairman Alan Leong is currently liaising with government and legal advisers, hoping to use the right of the Chairman to coordinate the agenda. Past practice is to follow the government’s recommendations, but Leong intends to get technical. Kenneth Leung asserts that both he and Leong intend to use this power: “Not everything is an emergency; there will be priorities. If there are projects and funding that are directly related to people’s livelihoods, we hope to bump them up. Leong and I want to set a precedent to start with projects that need to be done”. Fernando Cheung says that the Government has always preferred and stood firmly by the sequence set by the administration. He points out that the government may refuse to give an inch, and take all policies directly to the Financial Committee.

Fernando Cheung says that the government may refuse to give an inch, and take all policies directly to the Financial Committee.

Engineering FC Lo Wai-kwok disagrees with the approach to merely keep a “humanitarian channel” open. “Public works can be categorized into short, medium and long term projects. If there is only an open channel for the most urgent of all issues, long-term development projects in Hong Kong will be blocked. Moreover, it is difficult to determine which projects are considered more humane or less controversial”. He also disagrees that the Chairman should be allowed to arbitrarily change the agenda because the subcommittees examine public works projects submitted by the Financial Secretary.

He argues, “the sequence should be arranged by the Financial Secretary who sees the whole picture. We also have to show consideration for the progress and status of each project in itself, for example, some tenders have deadlines to meet.” Lo Wai-kwok emphasizes that the Council is already jammed with bills, and hopes that the Pan-Democrats can consider the overall situation and not further obstruct the process”. In the previous term, the Public Works Subcommittee only completed 24 projects, leaving 21 projects for this year. Including these 21 projects, the government estimates a total of 89 projects to deal with this term. Consequently, Lo stresses that the impact will be huge.

Unraveling

City University of Hong Kong’s Chair Professor of Political Science and Convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, shares his insights, saying that the Pan-Dem’s “surprise attack” and the Pro-Establishment’s “retaliation” are signs of the strained relationship within the Legislative Council. “These incidents reflect that ever since CY Leung’s tenure began, the Occupy Movement started, the NPC announced the decision, and the White Paper was published, the space for dialogue between the Pan-Dems and Pro-Establishment has vanished. Without trust or cooperation, it is, as CY Leung said, a state of conflict between enemies. Under such circumstances, there will be ongoing surprise attacks and retaliation. The political climate has degraded the relations between Pan-Democrats and Pro-Establishment to the point where there is no room for cooperation.

Cheng suggests two reasons why the Pan-Democrats are vigorously opposing the government in LegCo. The first explanation is the National People’s Congress decision on August 31. The second is the Pan-Dems’ discontentment of being the minority even though they had been elected with higher vote percentages.

This dissatisfaction has come to a head in 2014. With students in the streets and Legislators maneuvering around the battle positions, the war is on. If October 4th was Pearl Harbour, look for Midway, Iwo Jima and maybe even nuclear legislative options being dropped this year.
Part II will look at the upcoming battles.