Budget bill passes amid police-fund resistanceTop News | Justin Tong 26 Mar 2020
The HK$215.8 billion appropriation bill was finally passed in the Legislative Council yesterday despite pro-democrats' opposition to increased police funding.
On a 39 to 24 vote, the passage of the Account Resolution Bill came after repeated government warnings on a suspension of anti-epidemic work and other public services next month if the bill was rejected.
All 39 yes votes were from the pro-establishment lawmakers and all 23 pro-democrats at the meeting plus medical sector lawmaker Pierre Chan Pui-yin voted against the bill.
No one abstained, though three were absent - the New People's Party's Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who is also an Executive Council member, Heung Yee Kuk chief Kenneth Lau Ip-keung and pro-Beijing Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.
The weeks-long debate that preceded saw continuous opposition from pro-democracy lawmakers over the inclusion in the bill of a HK$24.5 billion budget for the police force and HK$125 million for the Chief Executive's Office.
Eddie Chu Hoi-dick of the Land Justice League, who proposed to adjourn the meeting yesterday, argued the government had created the risk of a "fiscal cliff" by insisting on including police funding alongside other welfare measures.
"If Hong Kong people have to get rid of the fiscal kidnapping from the Communist Party and the SAR government, we must have the courage to jump off the cliff," Chu said.
But Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury James Lau said the funds for police and the CE's office amounted to only 2.6 percent of the bill.
The 25 percent boost in the police budget will enable the force to purchase six armored cars and one water-cannon vehicle and recruit 2,543 officers, which drew strong opposition from the pro-democracy lawmakers.
The bill, which also supports government departments to operate for the first week of April, will secure HK$6.2 billion for the Hospital Authority, HK$1.7 billion for universities and HK$1.3 billion for low-income families.
Urging lawmakers to pass the bill, Lau said last week was already a "critical point" to pass the bill when last Thursday's meeting was adjourned due to a lack of quorum.
"If we have orders for what we call personal protective equipment, like masks, isolation gowns, face shields or protective coveralls, a lot of these would require cash payments or payments upon delivery of the goods," Lau said.
He criticized the pro-democracy lawmakers for their "irresponsible" threat to veto the bill, adding it was an "essential procedure" to include the two sets of funding in the bill according to the Public Finance Ordinance.
Pro-democrat lawmakers also criticized the government for neglecting the needs of citizens amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democratic Party's Roy Kwong Chun-yu accused the government of not understanding people's hardships in purchasing masks.
Pro-labour Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung said authorities had failed to close the borders earlier and was only "partially assisting" the economy without taking care of the unemployed and small enterprises.
There was also an argument over whether yesterday's meeting should take place at all amid the outbreak.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen ignored the health risk posed to staff by continuing the meeting.
But Leung countered that no lawmaker had expressed disagreement when they were consulted over the arrangement on Monday.