Abusive and chaotic filibuster has been the headache of the Legislative Council for far too long. The anarchic situation is aggravating and vigorously spreading to different parts of the Council. Not only is filibustering hindering the normal operation of our Legislature, it is also upsetting the checks and balance of our constitutional structure, turning the lawmaking body into a political tool of a handful politicians that paralyses the Executive’s administration and the governance of SAR Government. Filibustering is abused as if “cancer cells” in the body of the city’s constitutional structure.
Unfortunately, it marked the third year that the Budget has suffered from being the soft target of filibustering. Out of over 3,900 proposed amendments by legislators, the President of the Legislative Council approved only some 600 at resumption of Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill 2015. The huge volume of amendments many of which arbitrarily axing the annual salaries and expenses of senior government officials or even the entire departments, were ruled as ungrounded and unreasonable. It aims at nothing but to embarrass the government. No reasonable man can support these eccentric, reckless and unconstructive amendments and so can I.
Abuse Power to Check on the Government
The habitual abuse of filibustering by some legislators to delay and obstruct the passage of the Appropriation Bill has ramified the severe problems in the Legislature under our constitutional system. As stipulated in the Basic Law, the constitution of HKSAR, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, as well in its pertaining articles, has been well-defined in a strict constitutional structure, that a system of checks and balances applies and also allows mutual cooperation in place.
According to the Article 64 of the Basic Law, “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region must abide by the law and be accountable to the Legislative Council of the Region: it shall implement laws passed by the Council and already in force; it shall present regular policy addresses to the Council; it shall answer questions raised by members of the Council; and it shall obtain approval from the Council for taxation and public expenditure.”
As stipulated in the Article 73 of the Basic Law, many important functions of the Legislature are clearly set out, including “(i) to enact, amend or repeal laws in accordance with the provisions of this Law and legal procedure; (ii) to examine and approve budgets introduced by the government; (iii) to approve taxation and public expenditure; (iv) to receive and debate the policy addresses of the Chief Executive; (v) to raise questions on the work of the government” and so on.
Amongst these duties, “to examine and approve budgets” is a very important power of the Legislature to monitor the work of the Executive, which is also one of the most important tasks every year. Even filibuster-launching pan-democratic legislators would highly regard this authority of Legislative Council.
Disrupting the Balance of Constitutional Structure
Very sadly, while some lawmakers expressed how they cherish such power, they acted contrary to their words. Filibustering has weakened this Legislature’s function with profound ramifications and damages. It has gone far beyond delaying government funding for a couple of days, waste tens of millions in public funds but paralyzed the operation of the Legislative Council and the Government. These filibuster abuses have sparked territory-wide concerns in the city. However, there are some less discussed but far-reaching impacts, namely, the entire lawmaking body being pushed towards self-destructive anarchy. What is even worse, filibustering is eroding the checks and balance system of the constitutional structure stipulated in the Basic Law. All of us in the society are footing the bill.
Hong Kong is a society that prides in paying high regard to democracy, cohesiveness and reasoning. Yet, year after year, certain legislators have aggravated filibuster abuse by moving an array of similar amendments. In 2013, 762 were moved to the Appropriation Bill; it leaped to 1,917 in 2014. This year was even worse as it surged to 3,904. Luckily only part of these proposed filibustering amendments were approved by the President, still a large number of them are granted which is still very appalling.
As forecast by the President, 618 amendments for the Appropriation Bill this year, prolonged debates and voting processes and completed at the end of May. It took one and a half month for the seconding reading, 17 hours for the voting process alone, to go through prolonged speeches of filibustering and endless series of quorum calls. No matter how insightful the speeches, and critical their comments on current affairs are, the essence of their voices are unheard but drowned out by the tedious speeches or ringing bells for quorum.
Paralyzing Governance for Power Struggle
More disturbingly, filibusters have expelled orderly and rational debates in the Council and mutated the nature of the debates for the Appropriation Bill and transformed the platform for scrutinising the Budget proposals as a weapon of some legislators to attack the government.
With a closer look into these filibuster amendments, most of them are devised to scrap the salaries of various senior officials, departmental heads or even some departments, to axe the recurrent expenses of some departments or resources allocation for specific policy initiatives. These salary-cut proposals affected parties ranging from the Chief Executive of the HKSAR, the Chief Secretary for Administration, the Financial Secretary, the Secretary of Justice and the Hong Kong Police Force. However, none of the amendments are supplemented with an alternative proposal. If these amendments had been approved, Hong Kong would have come to a political vacuum at the top. The government would have suffered from deficiency manning and funding at political, economic, judiciary fronts and law and order, and subsequently fell to the verge of anarchy. How can the society benefit from such a situation? What can be done to restore order from such chaos?
Probably, filibustering legislators could not care less about these matters. Undoubtedly, their objective of moving these filibuster amendments is not to seek approval in the Council and the intention of delivering their speeches is not address government or the general public. In fact, they are only leveraging on the Legislative Council’s important function of scrutinising the Budget for their political goals. Even though they could not have paralyzed the Executive, at least they would have ridiculed and slashed officials in the Council, staining the government and weakening public trust in the government.
Hijacking Legislature with No Actual Deeds
With such uncooperative and antagonistic attitudes against the Administration, it is neither constructive nor helpful in fulfilling the constitutional duties of the Legislature on scrutiny work of the Budget and checks on the government. Filibuster is on the contrary to the system of checks and balance as well as mutual cooperation between the Executive and the Legislature as set out in the Basic Law. Unfortunately, the current constitutional setup permits filibuster which is abused by a few legislators to hijack the entire Budget scrutiny and forbid other lawmakers from making rational discussion to checks on government’s spending. Unsatisfactorily, the public feel helpless to end filibustering on far-fetched, frivolous and meaningless matters instead of making meaningful deeds.
With a hindsight, the LegCo President has learnt his lessons this year. Based on past experiences, he set a time limit of a couple of hours for each proposed amendment topic. It perverted other legislators repeating the strategy they adopted last year by compelling to stay quiet in a bid not to “fertilise” filibustering. With thanks to this ceiling of topical session, things were much improved although, filibuster still caused serious hindrance and delays in the Council’s delivering the constitutional duties of scruitising the Appropriation Bill.
Above all, the Legislature has been mired in filibuster abuses for too far, too long and too much. It spreads to different parts of the lawmaking body recklessly and vigorously, like malicious cancer cells in our constitutional system. To honor the constitutional duties, legislators should adopt a constructive attitude in building Hong Kong. I implore all legislators, regardless of where you stand in political spectrum, of which political parties and factions, you belong to. Please unite and work together for Hong Kong’s interest and our people’s well-being. Only by restoring the order of the Legislature to the right path of reasoning to check on the government can this city continue to prosper and flourish.
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