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July 17th, 2016:

Yawning gap between the legislature Hong Kong needs, and the one it has

Alice Wu says with the current Legco session now ended, we should look closely at the gap between members’ vows at the start of the year and their actual, woeful performance

Some Hong Kong lawmakers have a knack for turning lawmaking into a practice so alien that we feel completely discombobulated. Now that the legislative term has ended and we’ll be electing people to the sixth Legislative Council in six weeks, it’s time to revisit what legislatures are supposed to do.

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws. And it is serious business, although some of our lawmakers do not seem to understand why their office carries the “honourable” prefix. The man at the centre of the filibuster on the medical reform bill, the “Honourable” Leung Ka-lau, a medical doctor, has proudly admitted many a time that lawmaking is just his “part-time job”. Surely, the dignity of the legislature is tarnished not only by flying objects; it is attitudes like this – that Legco business is not worth more than perfunctory attention – that is damaging. With his abysmal attendance record, one wonders why the good doctor even bothered to show up at all, or why he ran for the seat in the first place.

The medical reform fiasco certainly made sure that the current term didn’t go out with a bang, and unfortunately, it exemplifies what the council has become. Too little deliberation goes on at this deliberative assembly. Or perhaps our lawmakers do not think talking to reach agreement is their duty. They much prefer to talk to stall. And judging by the time spent on filibustering this year, which has been reported to be twice as long as last year, our lawmakers really love the sound of their voices.

When the September polls come around, voters should consider the discrepancy between some lawmakers’ vow at the beginning of the legislative year to use moderation when it comes to filibustering, and the reality. Filibustering that lasted twice as long is no moderation.

Another legislative “fetish” they seem to have developed is their love for roll-calling, or maybe it’s the sound of the quorum bells ringing. If people have compared them to unruly schoolchildren in the past, then I guess some of them have grown to love this identity. Perhaps the next Legislative Council would consider having members wear school uniforms to meetings. Cosplay may not be unparliamentary.

It’s almost unfathomable today that 20 years ago, “foul grass grows out of a foul ditch” was ruled offensive language inappropriate for use in the chamber. Indeed, times have changed. One lawmaker – also on the list of legislators with poor attendance – used the very little time he spends inside the chamber to showcase his obnoxiousness.

Among the things he will be remembered for is the Cantonese term that literally means “stumbling on the street” but is often translated as “drop dead”. Thanks to him, the term made it into Legco’s official record for expressions ruled unparliamentary. A total class act.

The Legco Public Accounts Committee has recently expressed “grave concern” over the HK$172 million in lost government revenue that the government has not been able to collect in rates and rents. It is certainly a matter that deserves public concern, but lest they forget, a lawmaker did actually call for Hongkongers to not pay their rates and government rents as a legitimate form of protest. Technically, a member of the council encouraged this sort of behaviour, but now the council expresses “grave concern”?

HK$172 million is not chump change, but neither is the HK$771.3 million spent on running the legislature for 2015-16. By this paper’s latest count (July 8), lawmakers have so far spent 108 hours on quorum counts for the 2015-16 legislative year alone. It is disgusting that our lawmakers spent as much time counting heads as firefighters did in fighting the deadly Ngau Tau Kok inferno.

If we consider the homeless shelter that the council recently rejected, we would see that it’s not simply delaying tactics that our lawmakers love. The project has been on the table for almost four years, and plans have been revised to address issues lawmakers had initially objected to. It was endorsed by the public works subcommittee before it was sabotaged.

Our legislators like to say they act for “the people”. As “the people”, it is time that we hold them to account.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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