Post-Umbrella group launches monitoring campaign in bid to bring substance back to LegCo

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Be it low meeting attendance rate or unmet election promises, The 80s Momentum works to make sure that they do not sneak past the public’s attention.

At a time when the LegCo is reduced to a rubber stamp in the eyes of the pan-democrats and a stage of endless protests in the eyes of the loyalists, it is no surprise that Hongkongers across the spectrum would lose faith in party politics and the city’s legislative branch in general. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong in June 2016, almost half of the respondents were dissatisfied with the overall performance of political parties in Hong Kong.

While the problem is a political one, it is also due to the lack of a credible and transparent mechanism for the public to monitor and assess the performance of all lawmakers. In light of this, a post-Umbrella group has recently started a project in bid to create a ‘marking scheme’ for evaluating lawmakers.

Unlike most post-Umbrella groups which would normally assert their presence in frontline politics, the 80s Momentum (the group) tends to play the role of an enabler to equip the otherwise nascent and scattered political novices with organisational and communications skills. Following the ups and downs of the localists in the past couple of years, the group has sought to raise the quality of political discourse in Hong Kong, with the LegCo monitoring project being their latest initiative.

The group currently has a camcorder installed in the LegCo chamber to try analyse videotapes of LegCo meetings and track every lawmaker’s time attendance data.

“To some extent, the time attendance data can serve as a standard for us to judge if our representatives in the LegCo are doing their job,” says Kevin Ko, convenor of the group. “Right now there is no official data of how long a legislator actually stayed in the meeting room – a parameter that may help shed light on the debate on quorum calls and beyond.” However, whether an attending lawmaker is taking a nap or enjoying photos of models seems unlikely to be taken as a factor.

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The group is also approaching lawmakers for the number of cases of assistance requests from the public they have handled, as the LegCo Secretariat only publicises the total number of cases handled by all lawmakers in its annual reports. The plan so far has received positive responses from IT lawmaker Charles Mok, Fernando Cheung of Labour Party and People Power chairman Raymond Chan.

“There are other civic organisations that are also collecting and compiling information such as the number of speeches delivered by lawmakers and their voting records. But we feel that more can be done to complement those already available and allow the public to better understand what a legislator should do,” says Anthony Cheong, spokesperson of the group.

The duo plans to make a formal announcement of the project in September 2018 as they continue to refine their ‘marking scheme’. In the long run, it is hoped that more civic organisations and even political groups can join the project with an ultimate aim to create open data on all LegCo panels and committees for the public to access.

“In the meantime, we hope to release some fun facts from the data we collect to keep the project rolling,” Cheong adds.

Across the Strait, public initiatives to monitor the legislature has taken root for years. As Ko and Cheong note, they took reference of their current plans from the Citizen Congress Watch in Taiwan when they did a field trip in January 2016. Started about a decade ago, the Citizen Congress Watch also provides a platform for the Taiwanese public to evaluate lawmakers on whether they have met their election pledges in campaign manifestos. Ko and Cheong was eager to replicate this experience and set up a similar online polling platform in Hong Kong, only to find that the LegCo Library holds no such documents. The government’s information services department, meanwhile, only keeps the manifestos for one year for budget purposes, and charges HK$80 cents a page for hardcopy requests.

“We find it absolutely ridiculous that these documents would only be kept for one year record while the term of office of the LegCo is four years,” stresses Ko. “This shows how our current system pays no regard to legislators’ election pledges which really should have been a major criteria when judging their performance.”

So far, the group has collected the hard copies of manifestos of some 40 lawmakers, and is currently chasing the rest for e-copies since three weeks ago. Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood and Worker’s Service Centre, Medical lawmaker Pierre Chan and Education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen have responded favourably, DAB’s Elizabeth Quat has agreed to follow up while the mailbox of BPA’s Priscilla Leung has apparently reached its maximum size limit.

“I think it will take time for legislators to really appreciate our efforts rather than seeing them as another burden,” Ko puts. “But all in all, it is essential to ensure standards in the quality of legislation through an open and impartial monitoring mechanism if Hong Kong is to move closer to a democratic society.”