Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said the government was able to make “bold” proposals to the Legislative Council (LegCo) as it “returned to normal.” The remark was made in Lam’s first regular Q&A session with lawmakers after all democrats quit the legislature in protest last November.
In her opening remarks at the meeting on Thursday, the city’s leader announced plans to submit five major legislative proposals. She said the government will amend existing legislation on oath-taking for people in public office to cover district councillors, in accordance with Article 104 of the Basic Law and Article 6 of the Beijing-imposed national security law. The proposed amendment is set to be presented to LegCo after the Lunar New Year.
Lam said another focus of the government’s upcoming legislative work would be tackling personal privacy infringements and the dissemination of “fake news” and hate speech. She said the government will prioritise outlawing “doxxing” and make it a criminal offence by revising the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.
The authorities will also amend the Medical Registration Ordinance to allow overseas trained doctors to practice in Hong Kong. But the proposed policy will only apply to medical professionals from recognised institutions who are permanent residents of the city.
The remaining amendments suggested by Lam were related to tenancy controls at sub-divided flats, as well as enhancing fire safety standards in old buildings.
Horace Cheung of the largest pro-Beijing party DAB asked if Lam’s administration would “bow down” to potential opposition by medics to the changes in doctor registration. In response, Lam said the proposal would benefit those working in public hospitals, saying they are coping with a heavy workload with over 600 vacancies at the moment.
She also pointed to the eligibility requirement of overseas doctors, saying the government has taken a more conservative approach in the proposal to allay concerns: “The legislative framework can be more bold… we are very determined, we will not bow down. We hope the council will support us,” she said.
Lam went on to say that she felt the government could make “bold” proposals to the LegCo now, after the legislature had “returned to normal” to a large extent. She said her administration “would not dare” to bring up some of the legislative suggestions if the atmosphere in the council was still like last year’s.
“[Y]ou can continue to slam our officials, including myself, but at least let us do our work,” she said. “The five legislative work laid out today, to be frank, [if we were] in the kind of Legislative Council last year, [we] would not dare to bring up at least two or three.”
Thursday’s Q&A session was the first since Lam announced last November to resume her monthly meetings at LegCo. Last October, the city’s leader told state-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po that she would stop attending meetings with legislators as she felt she was “insulted” by those from the pro-democracy camp.
The democrats later resigned collectively in protest against the ousting of four “unpatriotic” members from their camp, leaving the legislature with mostly pro-establishment lawmakers and no effective opposition.
Lam said that, with a LegCo that can function, the government would continue to suggest policies and measures that are daring yet beneficial to society: “This is the legislature that Hong Kong should treasure, which checks and balances the SAR government, supervises but cooperates with the government to serve the citizens.”
Public broadcaster under fire
During the Q&A session, some lawmakers urged Lam to review the regulation of the embattled public broadcaster RTHK, which came under fire last year for airing programmes which critics saw as a “one-sided attack” against the police force.
The DAB’s Steven Ho blasted the government-funded media organisation as being “biased” and “misleading,” claiming they distorted a remark by Chinese leader Xi Jinping last month. He also referred to a report by RTHK saying the government-issued food parcel to residents in Covid-19 lockdown lacked an opener for canned foods. The post stirred controversy as critics alleged the broadcaster intentionally failed to show that most cans were ring-pull ones and did not require an opener.
“Some [RTHK staff] are civil servants. Is it because they are hard to fire that they can unscrupulously make mistakes and have no punishment?” Ho asked, calling on the government to act on individual cases quickly.
In response, Lam said there was an extreme need for RTHK to improve, but said changes cannot happen overnight. She added it was “certainly unacceptable” for the public broadcaster, also a government department, to receive seven substantiated complaints, one serious warning and three warnings from the Communications Authority in less than two years.
“Every small incident requires investigation… I hope the chief editor will express his stance on these instances about reporting. But I’m still waiting,” she said.