Government’s game of chicken

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The Government has added a number of funding proposals into the Appropriation Bill which were originally to be reviewed and approved by the Finance Committee separately.  This has provoked the pan-dems further as they lost the power to vote down a specific proposal among those newly added to the Appropriation Bill.

 

Before the Appropriation Bill can even be debated on and (expectedly) filibustered on April 22nd, a skirmish has already broken out on the matter. At a special meeting of the Finance Committee this morning, the Government informed members it will include four funding proposals along with 21 other items into the Bill. The four proposals happened to be the same ones that were withdrawn from the committee’s agenda previously in order to bump up the Innovation and Technology Bureau staffing proposals.

 

Government: Finance Committee was inefficient

 

The Government explained their move was due to the ‘inefficiency‘ on the Finance Committee’s part, citing that the number of two-hour meetings held by the Committee hit a record-high and the number of proposals approved were at a record-low. Last term, the number of meetings that went beyond two hours amassed to 35; but in the first half of this term (from last October to February) alone, the number has reached 38 already. The number of funding proposals approved in past terms averaged at around 60. So far only 15 proposals have been approved this term, and it is quite unlikely the number will reach anything close to past averages.

 

Despite Professor KC Chan, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, reiterating during the meeting that the move was “legitimate and reasonable”, and that it was hardly the first time the Government has taking such actions, pan-dems remained unconvinced.

 

Pan-dems slam the move

 

The debate centred around two issues. First there was a debate fuelled by politics concerning who was responsible for the current deadlock between the Government and the LegCo (or Pan-dems to be specific). Then there was a more policy-focused debate on which items can be moved into the Draft Estimates of Government Expenditure, and which items cannot.

 

The first issue is a chicken-and-egg paradox. While the pro-establishment camp accused the pan-dems of destabilising the economy with endless filibustering, the pan-dems condemn the Government for discrediting its supposedly equal-footing with LegCo.

 

“The price of departing from constitutional conventions is a political one, but so is filibustering,” BPA’s Priscilla Leung defended the Government’s move. “Therefore the Government has the responsibility to make political decisions under such circumstance to safeguard public interests.”

 

Wong Yuk-man, on the other hand, argued that filibuster is only the result of an abusive executive branch. His former party compatriot Albert Chan blasted the Government for trying to bypass and damage its relationship with the LegCo with a practice last used 30 years ago.

 

The number game

 

With the Government’s moving to bundle up the 25 proposals as part of the Appropriation Bill, members now only have the liberty to amend the proposed estimates of the General Revenue Account (of which the 25 proposals were placed) as a package, meaning they do not have the power to vote down a specific proposal out of the 25 unless they try to cut the entire funding to the General Revenue Account.

 

The Government, however, can play around the figures within the General Revenue Account. This is in contrast to the usual practice when funding proposals are reviewed and approved separately in the Finance Committee.

 

Civic Party’s Claudia Mo lambasted the Government for treating LegCo as a “rubber-stamp” body. Alan Leong and Dennis Kwok, who are both also of the Civic Party, focused their arguments more on the criteria for an item to be included into the Estimates. Nevertheless, the two came to the same conclusion as other pan-dems, accusing the Government of making arbitrary decisions to circumvent the LegCo.