Over 20 scholars across higher education institutions in Hong Kong have signed a petition objecting to the amendment of the legislature’s procedural rules, saying that it would weaken the Legislative Council’s powers of deliberation and oversight.

The academics said that if the rules are amended, “the government will be more likely to become the representative of a dictatorial regime not subject to any checks to its powers, and all Hong Kong people will suffer.”

The pan-democratic camp held a protest outside the Legislative Council on Monday evening to protest pro-Beijing lawmakers’ attempts to change the procedural rules. The camp has warned that amending the rules would mean that the government would face no opposition on issues such as the legislation of Article 23 – the controversial national security law.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam at the Legislative Council. Photo: LegCo.

“We object to the amendment proposals because once such amendments are passed, they stand to gravely weaken the Council’s power to monitor the government, already minuscule as they are, and allow the all-powerful executive authorities to escape legislative oversight even further, rendering a much increased chance of Hong Kong heading towards an authoritarian system,” they said in the petition.

The academics said that although the pro-establishment camp said the purpose of the amendment was to prevent filibustering, some of the amendments “have actually nothing to do with filibustering” – such as the proposal to raise the quorum for investigating public officers from 20 to 35.

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. Photo: In-Media.

“Raising the requested number of petitioners to 35 before petitions can be presented is tantamount to dictating a pro-establishment camp endorsement before petitions can be referred to select committees. This would mean the similar, investigative committees would have little chance of being set up in future,” the petition said.

“The Legislative Council will have even greater difficulty in initiating investigations into suspected dereliction of duty by officials while costs to officials and public officers for abuse will be even less.”

The petition also said that the suggestion to lower the quorum for the committee stage on a bill from 35 to 20 is in violation of Basic Law Article 75, which states that the quorum for a meeting shall not be less than half of its members.

‘Draconian’ bills

The group also criticised a proposal to let the chairman dismiss lawmakers’ requests to adjourn when he is of the opinion that an adjournment of proceedings will be an abuse of procedure.

They said this means “the Chairman will be able to order a vote on a draconian bill and substantially weaken legislators’ capacity to reduce administrative abuse and mistakes.”

“When legislators lose the power to deliberate and the Legislative Council cannot rely on legislative procedures and powers to exert pressure and scrutinize the government, costs to the government for poor governance and pushing poor legislation will be much diminished and the government will not need to respond to the legislature or to public opinion.”

The group warned that if the pro-Beijing camp succeeds, “when the government decides to push through draconian legislation that breaches public interests and human rights, including legislation of Article 23, the Legislative Council will have greater difficulty in deterring such moves through legislative scrutiny and mobilizing for public support.”

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.