The meeting rules of the Legislative Council’s finance committee may soon include a controversial mechanism on how to change the rules, which will strip power from lawmakers.
Previously, there was no set protocol on how to change the rules – such as the length of notice period required – even though pro-Beijing parties have always had a majority in the committee. The committee is in charge of approving funding for government projects.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien suggested that motions to change the committee’s rules must be proposed 12 days before a meeting, and no amendments to proposed amendments can be put forward. The plans are an apparent effort to stop the pro-democracy camp from making surprise moves as pro-Beijing lawmakers have sought to crack down on filibustering.
Two special meetings on Friday and Saturday were scheduled to discuss what mechanism should be used.
On Thursday, the committee’s chair pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Kin-por suddenly decided on controversial discussion rules for the two meetings to pass his camp’s suggested mechanism faster. Those included a one-off eight minute speaking time limit for each lawmaker, and also combining pro-democracy lawmakers’ motions or scrapping them.
At the Friday meeting, pro-democracy lawmakers questioned Chan’s arrangements over the eight-minute time limit. Chan responded he had considered many factors and created a balance, increasing the limit from the usual three minutes.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said: “You have abused your power to a ridiculous level.”
Lawmakers Ray Chan and Eddie Chu complained that their motions and amendments had been scrapped only because the wording in the Chinese and English versions were slightly different, which would usually be fixed by the secretariat.
But Chan Kin-por claimed the lawmakers submitted their motions shortly before the deadline and the secretariat did not have time to modify them.
“Your Chinese version said ‘… legal and constitutional,’ but your English version only has the word ‘legal.’ This is not a translation issue but you missed a term,” he said. “The chair’s decision is non-debatable.”
In response, Chu said that the government was allowed to fix a typo on the spot last year when submitting a document about joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Last month, LegCo passed amendments to the house rules of its general meetings, stripping lawmakers of many of their powers to wage filibusters.
The pro-Beijing camp’s proposed changes to the finance committee’s rules included:
- Cancelling adjournment motions;
- Allowing only one motion without prior notice for each item instead of hundreds;
- Shortening voting bells;
- Giving the chair the power to decide meeting durations;
- Disallowing discussions at the finance committee of items already passed by the Public Works Subcommittee and the Establishment Subcommittee unless lawmakers allow them.
“The finance committee is castrating itself,” Chu said. “After changes to rules at [other committees], the finance committee will not be able to ask the government questions about certain projects… this is harming the LegCo’s constitutional duty.”
Chu raised an adjournment motion after his speech and the debate will continue on Saturday morning.