Pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung has criticised an increase in funding for police equipment announced in Hong Kong’s annual budget.

He said that the spending for “Specialist supplies and equipment” will cost HK$175 million – a 75 per cent increase compared to 2016-17. Previous purchases included firearms, ammunition, handcuffs, shields, among other items.

Police holding a pepper gun. Photo: HKFP.

Law said the details of some of the previous purchases were only revealed after questions were filed by fellow lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen. Local media reports have also revealed that the police will procure new rubber bullets with an increased range, as well as pepper ball shots.

“If lawmakers or the public did not carefully inspect the government’s expenditure, or the media did not reveal the government’s plans to buy equipment through third party [leaks], the public would have no way to monitor or even know,” he said.

Law, a student activist before becoming a lawmaker, said the government has formed a permanent committee reviewing police apparatus after last year’s unrest in Mong Kok.

“It constantly reviews what the police require. I would describe it as an arms race – a normalised routine to procure equipment – this will greatly harm the safety of the public,” he said.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

“This also makes it difficult to conduct checks and balances over the police’s power, that we can’t control the police from using unreasonable force.”

He urged the police to reveal the purchases over the past five years and promise that it will regularly make reports to the Legislative Council regarding new equipment, otherwise he would not support the extra funding.

The spending for the police force remains the highest among all government departments. It will receive an estimated HK$18.5 billion in funding for the year 2017-18.

E-sports development

The budget also mentioned that electronic gaming sports, or e-sports, has been developing rapidly in Hong Kong over the past few years and the government will invite Cyberport to study the latest technology and products to explore promoting e-sports in the city.

Law, who was known for his interest in e-sports, said it was likely the first ever mention of the subject in an annual budget. He welcomed the initiative saying that Hong Kong has adequate facilities to develop it.

Nathan Law (left) as a commentator of e-sports. Photo: Facebook/Nathan Law.

The Tourism Board on Tuesday announced plans to stage a brand-new mega event in August featuring a large-scale carnival with food, music and e-sports.

But Law said the event and the study to be conducted by Cyberport “are not comprehensive and not enough.”

“Most importantly, the government will need to change the culture of society, whereby many see gaming as a bad habit and there are many negative labels,” he said. “It means that e-sports is unable to have a positive influence on society.”

“Other than hosting mega-events, the government also needs to promote the sporting spirit of e-sports to the public and host competitions in local communities,” he said.

Government staff handing out 2017 budget explainer leaflets to passers-by. Photo: HKFP/Tom Grundy.

Law, the youngest ever lawmaker, also criticised that the budget’s allocated amount for youth development. He said that HK$1 billion was not enough and the measures proposed were not resolving the core problems facing young people, such as the lack of educational resources.

Law said he will cast an opposing vote to the budget, but he has yet to formulate further protest strategies.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.