LegCo round up March 16 to 19

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LegCo is ‘on fire’ this week, conducting 12 meetings in two days and lengthy debates have taken place in LegCo on minimum wage, rules for members to disclose interests and middle class.

 

March 16 Monday

 

Special Meeting of Finance Committee

The Government informed members it has added 25 funding proposals that were to be reviewed and approved originally in the Finance Committee into the Appropriation Bill. Read HT’s article for the details.

 

Meeting of Subcommittee to Study the Implementation of Free Kindergarten Education

Discussion on the manpower requirement, salary scale and teacher professionalism in the kindergarten sector. The standard teacher-to-student ratio in kindergartens currently stands at 1:151 and the average salary of teachers is about $18,800.

 

Meeting of Subcommittee on Four Subsidiary Legislation Related to Competition Ordinance Gazetted on 18 February 2015

First meeting of the Subcommittee and Andrew Leung (FC- Industrial 1st, BPA) was elected as Chairman. The four legislation concerned are the Competition (Application of Provisions) Regulation, Competition (Disapplication of Provisions) Regulation, Competition (Turnover) Regulation and Competition Ordinance (Commencement) Notice 2015. Discussion underway.

 

Meeting of Panel on Public Service

  1. Discussion on issues in the Budget related to the civil service. 2,540 more hirings will be seen this year as suggested by John Tsang, Financial Secretary. The figure represents an increase of 1.5% compared to last fiscal year. The Government also plans to provide 3,000 internship positions this year and next, which sees an increase of 30% over the last financial year.

 

  1. Overview of medical and dental benefits for civil servants, pensioners and eligible dependants. From April 2014 to December 2014, Department of Health has approved 45,956 applications for reimbursement of medical expenses which amounted to be $295.8 million. The budget for 2015-15 is $400 million.

 

Meeting of Panel on Constitutional Affairs

  1. Discussion on the technical amendments regarding the 2016 LegCo election. There will be no change over the Functional Constituency seats and the Government also ruled out previous rumours which suggested it will increase the Geographical Constituencies. Official papers wrote, “there has not been much public interest or discussion to change the number of GCs during the Public Consultation…As the existing arrangement of having five GCs has been well accepted by the community, we propose to maintain the number of GCs at five.” No gerrymandering for now. Under Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Lau Kong-wah, who is also a DAB member, said that the 831 decision has stipulated that there should be no change in the LegCo election in 2016, so “it is impossible to eliminate all FC seats in the 2016 election as some submissions collected from last consultation suggested.”

 

  1. Progress of Discrimination Law Review by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC). EOC Chairman York Chow said he will submit to the Government the recommendations on the Discrimination Law before the end of this year. Yiu Si-wing (FC- Tourism) cited the recent protests against parallel good traders and mainland tourists, and hoped EOC can deal with the problem. Mr Chow admitted that the hostility towards mainland tourists has intensified but the future Discrimination Law may not be able to prevent as “discrimination claims are civil claims”, he said.

 

Meeting of Panel on Health Services

  1. Proposal to create a Government loan of $4 billion for the development of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Medical Centre. Kwok Ka-ki (GC- NT West, Civic Party), who is also a doctor himself, argued that having another private hospital will not solve the long waiting time in the public sector. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said that expansion of public hospital facilities have been under way and there have to be a balanced development in the private sector as well. Dr Ko also said that CUHK will hire more medical professors and they will be restrained from serving only in the private sector.

 

  1. LegCo’s research study on the regulation of aesthetic practices in Hong Kong, Florida, South Korea, Singapore and UK. Currently, there is no specific law to regulate the import, distribution, sale or use of medical devices in Hong Kong except for those devices containing pharmaceutical products or ionizing radiation. Department of Health has commissioned a consultant early this year and will submit to LegCo the legislative proposals once the consultancy study is done.

 

  1. Progress of the General Outpatient Clinic Public-Private Partnership Programme launched by the Hospital Authority in Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun districts. The program seeks to drive patients to the private sector to lessen the pressure on public hospitals, and to promote the family doctor concept. As of early March, 84 private doctors signed up for the program, treating 3,043 patients. CY Leung has said in his latest Policy Address to expand the program to the remaining 15 districts.

 

Meeting of Panel on Education

  1. Discussion on issues in the Budget related to the education. In the latest Budget, the estimated total expenditure on education amounts to $79.3 billion, which is 7% higher than the 2014-15 revised estimate, and is the largest share (22%) among all other policy areas.

 

  1. Implementation of Applied Learning (ApL) in the Senior Secondary Curriculum. In the sixth cohort (2015-17 cohort), 40 ApL courses are offered to students. For instance, new courses such as “Entrepreneurship for SME”, “Electrical and Energy Engineering” and “Computer Forensic Technology” are introduced to meet the changing needs of the society and student interest.

 

  1. Discussion on the HKSAR Scholarship Fund and Self-financing Post-secondary Scholarship Scheme. In the 2013/14 academic year, around $157.7 million was allocated to 7,620 awardees from 37 institutions.

 

 

March 17 Tuesday

 

Meeting of Subcommittee to Study the Proposed Subsidiary Legislation on the Procedures to be Adopted by the Competition Tribunal

First meeting of the Subcommittee and Dennis Kwok (FC- Legal, Civic Party) was elected as Chairman. The legislation seeks to simplify the procedures in the Competition Tribunal to facilitate the litigation. The Administration said that Bar Association, Law Society, Competition Commission and Communications Authority welcomed to the legislation. Members questioned if there are more rooms to further lower the barriers for litigation. Discussion underway.

 

Special meeting of Establishment Subcommittee

Discussion on the late application of 16 pro-establishment members. There were 18 applications originally, Chan Kin-por (FC-Insurance) was rejected and Paul Tse (GC- Kowloon East) gained membership earlier. None of the 16 members were present. Pan-dems rejected the applications of DAB’s Chan Hak-kan, Elizabeth Quat, Christopher Chung and BPA’s Lo Wai-kwok.

 

List of applicants:

  • DAB’s Chan Kam-lam, Tam Yiu-chung, Chan Hak-kan, Ip Kwok-him, Chan Han-pan, Leung Che-cheung, Elizabeth Quat, Ann Chiang and Christopher Chung
  • BPA’s Andrew Leung, Priscilla Leung and Lo Wai-kwok
  • Liberal Party’s Frankie Yick
  • FTU’s Alice Mak, Wong Kwok-hing
  • Tony Tse

 

Meeting of Panel on Commerce and Industry

  1. Progress report on the implementation of the Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales. The Fund was introduced by the Government in June 2012 to assist enterprises doing business in the Mainland. As of December 2014, around 300 applications were approved and $362 million of funding were granted.

 

  1. Discussion on the results of the two-month consultation to modernise the practice and procedures of the Copyright Tribunal which ended on February 9th. Only a total of six written submissions were received from various stakeholders including professional bodies, copyright licensing bodies and other entities. Comments were also received from members in the Tribunal.

 

Meeting of Subcommittee on Rating (Exemption) Order 2015

First meeting of the committee and Andrew Leung (FC- Industrial 1st, BPA) was elected as Chairman. Under the legislation, all tenements are exempted from the payment of rates from 1 April 2015 to 30 September 2015, provided that the amount of rates payable for the period is $2,500 or less, or up to $2,500 if the amount is more than $2,500. The Subcommittee completed examination of the legislation in one hour.

 

Meeting of Panel on Manpower

  1. Work safety of repair, maintenance, alteration and addition (RMAA) works. There were 804 industrial accidents in RMAA works in the first three quarters of 2014, a reduction of 1.3% from 815 in the same period of 2013. The number of fatalities in RMAA works was eight in 2014, down by 27.3% when compared with 11 in 2013.
  2. Progress of the work of the Standard Working Hours Committee. In an earlier report done by the Committee, it was found that the average and median total working hours per week for all employees (3,142,500) in Hong Kong were 43.5 and 44 respectively. 18.4% of all employees were not compensated for overtime work. The Committee plans to submit the final report on implementing standard working hours in the first quarter of 2016.

 

March 18 Wednesday

 

Meeting of Public Works Subcommittee

  1.  $602.2 million for a Public Transport Interchange and associated works at Kiu Cheong

Road East, Ping Shan to support the Home Ownership Scheme development at the area. The proposal was approved.

 

  1. Construction proposal of $51.1 million for a community services centre in Shek Kip Mei and $31.1 million for expanding and improving the Wong Tai Sin Square. Both proposals were under the Signature Project Scheme and were approved by members.

 

Council meeting

 

Subsidiary legislation tabled:

District Councils Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule 7) Order 2015

Maximum Amount of Election Expenses (District Council Election) (Amendment) Regulation 2015

Both legislation will increase the financial assistance to this years District Council election, including raising the compensation from $12 per vote to $14 per vote and increasing the election expenses limit from $53,800 to $63,100.

 

Currently, elected candidates or candidates who received 5% of valid votes or more in the District Council election is eligible for financial assistance, which would be the lowest of the following amounts:

  • -the amount obtained by multiplying the subsidy rate (currently $12 per vote) by the total number of valid votes cast for the candidate (if the election is contested) or 50% of the number of registered electors for the constituency concerned (if the election is uncontested);
  • -50% of the election expenses limit; and
  • -the declared election expenses of the candidate.

 

Air Pollution Control (Ocean Going Vessels) (Fuel at Berth) Regulation

To require ocean-going vessels at berth in Hong Kong to switch to low-sulphur diesel.

 

Bills for 1st reading:

Human Reproductive Technology (Amendment) Bill 2015

Banning the publication or distribution of advertisements purporting to promote sex selection services through human reproductive technology procedures, whether or not the services are provided in Hong Kong.

 

Promotion of Recycling and Proper Disposal (Electrical Equipment and Electronic Equipment) (Amendment) Bill 2015

To include air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, television sets, computers, printers, scanners and monitors as regulated electrical equipments under the polluter pays principle. Manufacturers and importers of regulated electrical equipments will be required to register and pay a recycling fee.

 

Bills to resume 2nd reading and 3rd reading:

Securities and Futures and Companies Legislation (Uncertificated Securities Market Amendment) Bill 2014

To enable legal ownership in securities to be held and transferred without paper documents.

  • -3rd reading approved.

 

Veterinary Surgeons Registration (Amendment) Bill 2014

To broaden the membership of the Veterinary Surgeons Board and to establish the preliminary investigation committees.

  • -3rd reading approved.

 

Selected oral questions:

Starry Lee (FC- DC 2nd, DAB)

Q: The number of crowdfunding projects worldwide exceeded 1 million in 2012, raising as much as 2.7 billion USD and recording an increase of 81% on the previous year. Will the Government consider reviewing the restrictions on crowdfunding activities under the Securities and Futures Ordinance to support the business?

 

Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Professor K C Chan

A: “We will set up the steering group as soon as practicable to conduct the relevant studies, including studying issues relating to crowdfunding…In recent years, UK and US have made amendments to their laws to provide for crowdfunding activities. China is conducting a consultation [on whether] equity crowdfunding should adopt non-public issuance and that such activities should be subject to self-regulation…However, we are also aware of the potential risks involved in crowdfunding activities. For example, as the International Organisation of Securities Commissions pointed out in its relevant staff working paper released in February 2014, for equity crowdfunding investing mainly in start-up projects or businesses, there is a 50% chance of the default of a start-up project or business in the first five years of its existence.”

 

Cyd Ho (GC- HK Island, Labour Party)

Q: Who wrote, edited and vetted the documents in the report submitted by CE to the Central People’s Government (CPG) during the annual duty visit? Were such documents available for public inspection?

 

Chief Secretary for Administration, Carrie Lam

A: “CE’s Office coordinates the compilation of the written report, which will be submitted to the CPG through the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council and properly filed in accordance with the established records management requirements of the HKSAR Government. We have maintained our policy to not discuss the communication between CE and the CPG. Members can ask the content of communication during the CE Q&A session in LegCo.”

 

Government’s motions:

As the debate on the Appropriation Bill will not begin until April 22nd, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor K C Chan moved a motion to seek approval for the Government to use 23% of the proposed amount in the latest Budget to continue the operation of the Government. The amount will be around $81.6 billion. Not many members spoke on the motion and they approved the motion by 44 to 5. People Power lawmakers Raymond Chan and Albert Chan have vowed to filibuster when the Council debate the Appropriation Bill.

 

Members’ motions:

On behalf of the House Committee, Andrew Leung (FC- Industrial 1st, BPA) moved to approve the Minimum Wage Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule 3) Notice 2015. The legislation is to increase the minimum hourly wage rate from $30 to $32.5, starting from May 1st. Lee Cheuk-yan (GC- NT West, Labour Party) accused the increment to be too modest and criticised the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung of destroying labour rights. He believed the minimum wage should be around $38. Debate underway.


March 18 Thursday

 

Continuation of Council meeting

 

Members’ motions:

  1. Debate continued on passing the Minimum Wage Ordinance (Amendment of Schedule 3) Notice 2015 to raise the minimum wage from $30 to $32.5. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung said the increment balanced the interests of both employers and employees. He also said the inflation rate in recent years has slacken so the $2.5 increase is appropriate. Subsidiary legislation requires no voting in LegCo.

 

  1. On behalf of the Committee on Members’ Interests, Ip Kwok-him (FC- DC 1st, DAB) moved to amend the Rule of Procedures to allow members, who have already disclosed their interests related to the discussion topics at the first meeting, to be free from disclosing interests again in subsequent meetings. Pan-dems disapproved the amendments. Cyd Ho (GC- HK Island, Labour Party) believed the amendments will taint the image of LegCo. Kenneth Leung (FC- Accountancy, Professional Commons) argued the current rules to disclose interests are very loose already. The amendments were voted down by pan-dems.

 

  1. Andrew Leung (FC- Industrial 1st, BPA) moved a motion to expand the ratio of the middle-class population. Sin Chung-kai (GC- HK Island, DP) suggested the Government to provide more tax allowances and relaunch the Sandwich Class Housing Scheme to cater for the housing need of the middle class. Joseph Lee’s (FC- Health Services) amendment to the motion to urge the Government to “formulate a widely recognized definition for the middle class and promote diversification of industries” was approved. Andrew Leung’s motion was approved with only 2 members voting in against and 1 abstaining.


4. Lo Wai-kwok (FC- Engineering, BPA) moved a motion to formulate a long-term and comprehensive industrial policy. Dr Lo said that Hong Kong has focused too much on the finance and property market and has to diversify in order to compete with neighbouring cities and nations. Ma Fung-kwok (FC- Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication) cited the success of South Korea was due to the initiatives of the Government more than a decade ago. All 5 amendments to the motion were approved and the motion was approved without objection.