LegCo Round Up July 10

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Special holiday on Sept 3 passed; heated debate over e-cigarette ban; MPF in danger of stock failure; completion of West Kowloon Cultural District further postponed and costs are going home; CE Q&A session a comedy.

July 6 Monday

Meeting of Bills Committee on Human Reproductive Technology (Amendment) Bill 2015
The amendment seeks to provide for a new offence in respect of publishing or distributing advertisements purporting to promote sex selection services in the Human Reproductive Technology Ordinance. The committee is now scrutinizing the bounds of the potential amendment, and how the limits should extend to internet information. Kwok Ka-kei (GC – New Territories West, Civic Party) and Chan Chi-chuen (GC – New Territories East, People Power) expressed worries that the current ambiguity in the amendment bill might infringe on people’s freedom of speech.

Special meeting of Panel on Health Service
The Panel on Health Services invited the public to attend a special meeting to discuss the Government’s proposal to strengthen tobacco control. The three measures include increasing the size of the graphic warning on cigarette packages; banning cigarette smoking at bus interchanges outside tunnels; and a complete ban on e-cigarettes.

Under Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the Government will seek ban on the import and selling of e-cigarettes through legislation if the public supports the move.

Opinions were at two extremes at the meeting, supporters of the Government proposal, including health professionals, insisted e-cigarettes were harmful, and needed to be nipped in the bud. Others felt like the e-cigarette might become a gateway to conventional cigarettes for the youth. Detractors suggested that e-cigarettes were significantly less harmful than cigarettes, and suggested experiences abroad suggest the “gateway” argument is invalid.

Meeting of Panel on Financial Affairs
On the Bank of Communications Merger Bill, Albert Ho (FC – District Council Second, Democratic Party) suggested that the Government should review the current practice of handling private bank mergers in LegCo and not in court. The bill will be formally tabled before the end of year.

Regarding the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) core fund, the administration indicated that policy of limiting the management fee at the 0.75% of annual assets managed is only an initial figure that will likely fall in the future after legislation. The MPFA could not promise when the fall would occur.

After conducting public consultations, the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority announced it would not implement the automatic MPF adjustment mechanism. Wong Kwok-hing (GC – Hong Kong Island, Federation of Trade Unions) accused the administration of not having done enough consultation work. He suggested that most trade unions supported the automated mechanism, and that the authorities should not scrap the plan without explaining clearly the ‘game rules’. He vowed to bring the proposal back next LegCo year.

On the automatic exchange of financial account information (AEOI) in tax matters, legislators including Kenneth Leung (FC – Accounting, The Professional Commons) and Ng Leung Sing (FC – Finance) expressed worry whether the administration could implement AEOI by the deadline in 2017.

Meeting of Bills Committee on Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2014
The committee continues to dissect the controversial amendment bill. Submissions from Progressive Lawyers Group, and the Copyrights and Derivative Works Alliance were considered. The last two meetings have been cancelled as no more amendments were proposed. The committee will meet again in September.

Meeting of Panel on Housing
Lawmakers in the Panel on Housing expressed concerns over the low enforcement rate against refinancing of Home Ownership Scheme flats with premium unpaid. The administration explained that some homeowners apply for second mortgages in the form of a personal loan through finance companies.

Meeting of Bills Committee on Property Management Services Bill
The bill seeks to establish a Property Management Services Authority for the licensing of related businesses and to regulate and control the provision of such services. The committee continued to examine these bills clause by clause.

July 7 Tuesday

Meeting of Panel on Security
Pan-dem lawmakers joined their pro-est counterparts at a Panel on Security meeting to block a government proposal to cap the amount of undeclared cash carried by travellers when crossing the border at USD15,000 (around HKD116,000). Hong Kong is the only member of the International Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering that is yet to implement the policy.

Legislators questioned whether the cap would be truly effective in combating money laundering. Some are concerned that mainland tourists will be affected if such measure is implemented.

The Panel also touched upon applications for non-refoulement claims. Emily Lau (GC – New Territories East, Democratic Party) challenged why asylum-seekers are not eligible for non-refoulement claims until their stay has exceeded their limit of stay already. The Government replied they are trying to work out the best arrangements. Legislators also demanded for unified screening mechanisms so to ensure that the screening processes are fair and just.

Meeting of Panel on Transport
Members debated over private carriage apps such as Uber and GoGoVan. Special licensing for private carriages providing transport services was called for by supporters of private carriage apps. They also said such services offer more choices for consumers. Some expressed disatisfaction with dangerous driving by taxi drivers. On the other hand, taxi drivers and taxi licence owners complained costs are high and blamed the government for not prosecuting unlicensed transport.

Meeting of Joint Subcommittee to Monitor the Implementation of the West Kowloon Cultural District Project
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who also chairs the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority WKCDA), revealed at the meeting that because of construction delays, restaurant and retail facilities will not be able to cover initial spendings and costs. According to the CS, the HK$21.6 billion that has been signed off by LegCo since 2008, will not be enough to build the third batch of cultural art facilities, including a music centre and a grand theatre. She added that the WKCDA is currently looking at other financing options, such as partnering with private developers, or developing hotels or offices in the area, and if all else fails, the WKCDA will go to LegCo for more fundings.

Meeting of Bills Committee on Inland Revenue (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2015
The first meeting of the Bill Committee was held. Kenneth Leung (FC – Accounting, The Professional Commons) elected Chair of Bill Committee.

Legislators inquired mechanisms in the tax appeal process. The government explained that the length of the appeal process is unlimited because while some cases are simple and direct, some others are complicated. Kenneth Leung challenged why new evidences would not be accepted once the judicial process has begun after the case is handed from the Board of Review to the Court.

July 8 Wednesday

Meeting of Public Accounts Committee
The Public Accounts Committee reported at the LegCo general meeting that it will following up on three cases, including the Buildings Department’s inefficiency in removing illegal structures, insufficient manpower for the Government Flying Service, as well as the blunder in improving vacancy rates in public cooked food markets

The committee slammed the Buildings Department in particular as reports of illegal structures had risen by 67% while removals had dropped by 45% over the past 10 years, stressing that the figures were “unacceptable” considering the fact that the department had received almost HKD3bn since 2001 to do the job.

The committee proposed an amnesty for those illegal structures that would not constitute immediate danger, but members noted that there was no consensus to the suggestion yet.

Council Meeting
Legislators have started debating on the Government’s proposal to make Sept 3 as a special holiday in commemoration to the victory of WWII.

Sin Chung-kai (GC – Hong Kong Island, Democratic Party) said his party would support the bill while urging the Government set the number of statutory holiday at 17 days

Tommy Cheung (FC – Catering, Liberal Party), meanwhile, argued that the industries had not been properly consulted and that the Sept 3 holiday should be an one-off proposal

Picks for today’s LegCo questions: 1) National Security Law; 2) International school places; 3)Events involving use of powder; 4) Airport’s north commercial district

July 9 Thursday

Chief Executive Q&A session
The CE Q&A session in LegCo was a bit of a mess as Leung ‘Longhair’ Kwok-hung (GC – New Territories East, League of Social Democrats) was ordered to leave the chamber halfway though, with no lack of exchanges of words between pan-dems and pro-est lawmakers.

After an enquiry from Starry Lee (FC – District Council Second, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong), an ExCo member, CY Leung awkwardly noted that the Government will launch a campaign led by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to clean the streets.

As Dennis Kwok (FC – Legal, Civic Party) questioned Leung’s capability to restore executive-legislative relations, Leung said the issue had nothing to do with his personal character and refused to promise that he will not seek a second term.

Jasper Tsang (Chairman, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong) lost his temper in the middle of the session and told lawmakers that he as the LegCo President “does not need instruction on the LegCo’s rules of procedure” and ask if they have had “enough ‘performance’ in front of the TV cameras”.

The Chief Executive went on to address mostly economic and livelihood issues, saying they are looking to establish the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect as soon as possible.

CY Leung slammed the pan-dems for filibustering the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Bureau, accusing Charles Mok (FC – Information Technology, The Professional Commons) in particular for failing to speak out for the industry’s interest. He also refused Wu Chi-wai (GC – Kowloon East, Democratic Party)’s requests to establish a monitoring authority to address the recent controversies surrounding bid-rigging incidents.

Continuation of Council meeting of 8 July 2015
The LegCo approved making Sept 3 a special one-off holiday in commemoration to the victory in WWII, valid only for one year in 2015. Some pan-dems slammed the special holiday as a “political holiday” while Albert Chan (GC – New Territories West, People Power) argued that the Communist Party “played no role in the war against the Japanese invasion”. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung noted that the Government has no plan yet to consult the public on making the day a statutory holiday at the moment.

The Inland Revenue (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2015 was passed as well, which entail the main tax cuts listed in this years budget, including a one-off reduction in salary tax, tax under personal assessment, and profits tax by 75%, subject to a ceiling of $20,000. It also includes an increase in the basic and additional child allowance under salaries and tax under personal assessment.

Meanwhile the debate of the second reading of the establishment of the Independent Insurance Authority was cut short due to Typhoon Linfa.

July 10 Friday

Continuation of Council meeting of 8 July 2015
The Insurance Companies (Amendment) Bill 2014 was passed, greenlighting the establishment of the Independent Insurance Authority.

The Inland Revenue (Amendment) Bill 2015 passed second reading, but due to Leung ‘Longhair’ Kwok-hung (GC – New Territories East, League of Social Democrats)’s request to speak, the bill did not pass third reading. The meeting was adjourned and will continue on Monday.