The president of the Legislative Council has said the incumbent House Committee chairperson has the power to convene meetings on “urgent” matters, following outside legal advice.

LegCo President Andrew Leung told reporters on Monday that pro-Beijing DAB lawmaker Starry Lee, who chaired the last House Committee, has the duty and power to deal with legislative issues that have accumulated amid a deadlock over the election of a new chair.

Andrew Leung. File photo: LegCo.

As the incumbent Deputy Chair, pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party has presided over 16 House Committee meetings since October 15 last year.

Lee is standing for re-election as chair for the 2019-2020 session. She told local media on April 24, ahead of the last meeting, that she would not withdraw from the election in order to assume presiding power.

“I strive to maintain the fairness and justice of the election. Anyone who compels a candidate to withdraw from running is doing so unjustly,” she said.

Leung said external legal advice affirmed Lee’s powers: “If you look at the ROP [Rules of Procedure], Starry is still the incumbent chairman, after one week, two weeks, a month… she can still exercise the [prudence] of calling meetings.”

DAB lawmaker Starry Lee. Photo: LegCo screenshot.

He also said Kwok had acted inconsistently with his powers and functions as the presiding member.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) and Hong Kong Liaison Office issued statements last month blaming opposition lawmakers for deliberately stalling the election of the chairperson of the House Committee. They accused Kwok of abusing his power and causing major delays to legislative proceedings.

The statements triggered a constitutional row over whether Article 22 of the Basic Law – which bars Beijing from interfering in Hong Kong’s domestic affairs – was applicable to the HKMAO and Hong Kong Liaison Office, and whether the agencies have the power to supervise matters in the city.

Dennis Kwok. File photo: inmediahk.net.

Leung said that after six months of stalemate, 14 bills and around 20 other pieces of subsidiary legislation had yet to be scrutinised: “Is that urgent? It is up to the members and the public to decide.”

All lawmakers except LegCo’s president are members of the House Committee. The appointment of the next chief justice and the scrutiny of the National Anthem Bill are among the legislative businesses that have been affected by the impasse.

Speaking to the press later in the afternoon, Kwok said it was “deeply regrettable” that the two senior counsels had taken his words out of context to conclude that he had deliberately obstructed the election process.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.