Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim may not be the perfect person to advocate for the controversial One Belt, One Road scholarship programme due to his low ratings, says lawmaker Lam Tai-fai, the chairman of the Panel on Education of the Legislative Council.
Lam said a meeting to discuss the HK$1 billion scholarship programme on Monday mainly elicited negative reactions from the lawmakers who spoke. Under the new scheme, Hong Kong students may receive grants to study in universities located in countries in the Belt and Road Initiative, or vice versa.
“I have told the Secretary for Education, maybe you should modify the policy before pushing it forward,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme on Tuesday. “If it was forcefully pushed forward, a good thing may turn into a bad thing.”
The meeting attendees failed to debate the scheme as there was not enough time, and the LegCo session will end in mid-July, leaving a very short period of time for it to be passed. Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen had said there was no urgency to grant approval.
“To be frank, it takes a good salesperson even for a good policy… but this was pushed forward by Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim, the one with the lowest ratings,” Lam said. “He does not have any power to convince, I feel [the government] may have asked the wrong person to do this.”
Lam added that Hong Kong students may not have any substantial knowledge of the Belt and Road countries – namely Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries – and that they should not be asked to consider whether to study there with the scholarship programme.
The government could bypass the Panel on Education and send the proposal directly to the Finance Committee to approve its budget.
But Ip said on the radio programme that it would cause even more opposition by doing so, and lawmakers could speak multiple times at the committee, much more than at the one hour long panel meeting.
“The officials will have no chance to speak, we [pan-democrats] will spend all the time speaking in opposition,” Ip said.
Speaking with media ahead of the Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, acting Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government would follow two principles in attempting to get projects approved, that is, that livelihood projects and less controversial ones would come first.
It was rumoured that the government may place the scholarship scheme ahead of the proposal to increase wages for civil servants, so that lawmakers would have to pass the scheme in order not to anger civil servants.
Lam said the wage raise proposal still needed to be approved by the Executive Council before being scheduled at the Finance Committee, and the government would not reschedule particular projects.