Time we get this house back in order

Editorial | Mary Ma 9 Dec 2019

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung's plea for an end to filibustering in the election of leaders for the Legislative Council's house committee is doomed to fall on deaf ears - unless a breakthrough can be struck across the political divide.

While pro-government lawmakers have gained control of Legco, completing their control by securing leadership of this crucial committee would have been just a matter of course had the pro-democracy opposition not stood in their way.

Since Democrat James To Kun-sun is the most senior lawmaker among his peers, he is automatically responsible for conducting the meeting to elect the chair and vice chair who, once elected, will take over from him in leading the committee in the conduct of its normal business, which involves dealing with government bills.

In the last legislative session, the powerful committee was led by pro-Beijing heavyweight Starry Lee Wai-king. It's most likely that someone from the pro-government camp will be elected once voting is allowed to take place.

Isn't it rather obvious the opposition is using everything at its disposal to prevent this from happening?

However, all this comes at a cost: a dreadful deadlock in Legco work that inevitably translates into severe delays in the vetting of government bills that have direct implications for the public. The question is how long the deadlock may last.

The longer it lasts, the greater damage it can cause.

It's amazing that after nine meetings and 20 hours of deliberations, the pro-establishment side has been powerless to break the deadlock although they are in the majority.

All they'd done in protest was stage a walkout, and that was by pro-Beijng trade union lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung, or made an angry outburst, which was by insurance constitutency legislator Chan Kin-por.

The stalemate has to be overcome since it has ground the normal operations of the house committee to a complete halt.

According to Cheung, the deadlock is endangering a total of 32 government bills that have to be vetted and passed in this legislative session. Otherwise, these bills will be rendered ineffective.

The committee is responsible for setting up subcommittees to scrutinize the bills, which forms an important part of the legislative process.

By comparison, Luk's recent complaint regarding the failure to pick a chairman would have health implications for Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen was of little relevance despite his apparent concern for the latter's health in saying a committee chairman is needed even if it was only to take over from Leung if the president needed to answer a call of nature.

Filibustering has to be criticized. It's never the proper way to press a point.

After nine unsuccessful meetings due to opposition filibustering, the upset wreaked on the government's legislative schedule and the extent of the damage to the public's interests has only begun to surface.

Maybe the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps should start a dialogue to reach an understanding on the committee election.

Filibustering is deplorable, but condemnation alone won't clear the way for legislators to elect the committee leaders at a 10th or even an 11th meeting - if the government side is really so powerless over the deadlock.

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