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SCMP: Officials slammed for ‘cunning’ move to get funding for controversial landfill plans; ‘Sneaky’ plan for landfills is withdrawn

from Stuart Lau of the SCMP:

Officials stand accused of trying to get studies into controversial landfill expansion projects funded by putting them through an annual reserve fund that allows them to bypass lawmakers who oversee environmental affairs.

The government’s move comes half a year after environment minister Wong Kam-sing shelved its application to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill amid strong opposition even among pro-government legislators.

The Environmental Protection Department is now applying to the Legislative Council’s public works subcommittee for an HK$8.8 million grant for a consultancy study on the design and construction of the Southeast New Territories landfill extension, according to Legco papers. (P5, P29-30)

The government’s two other plans to extend the Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun dumps were also dashed last summer. Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said afterwards that the government “can’t give up” extensions to all three dumps.

The Ta Kwu Ling extension would require HK$37.7 million, while a feasibility study of road access to the Tuen Mun site would need HK$29 million, the latest papers showed.

The three applications are part of a total application of HK$12.2 billion for government capital projects. They are due to be discussed on Friday.

But one pro-democracy lawmaker has described the move to combine the applications as “cunning”.

“The government is very cunning because it opted to withdraw the [Tseung Kwan O] application last year, but is now binding its reapplication in one go with about 30 other items which I’m not opposing,” said “super seat” lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, of the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood. “It has posed a difficult question to lawmakers like me.”

Fung said he had asked the Legco secretariat if it was possible to remove the three applications from the bundle, but the secretariat said there were no precedents of that having been done.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said the application was “in line with relevant procedures” as it was for the “necessary” preparatory work for the individual projects.

Sai Kung district councillor Christine Fong Kwok-shan asked lawmakers to vote down the government application.

6 Jan 2014

from Ada Lee of the SCMP:

Attempts by the government to expand the city’s landfills suffered another setback yesterday after it was forced to withdraw funding applications in the Legislative Council.

The three applications for preparatory work on the expansion plans were part of a HK$12.2 billion reserve fund proposal to be voted on by the Legco Finance Committee.

Permanent Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Elizabeth Tse Man-yee and Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing withdrew the HK$27 million items before they were put to vote, citing controversies and misunderstanding.

Their move followed criticism by lawmakers that they were “sneaky” in trying to put the proposals through the annual reserve fund, enabling them to bypass legislators who oversee environmental affairs.

The government wants to expand the landfills in Tseung Kwan O, Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun – which will all be full by 2019 – to take waste until a planned incinerator is ready.

Strong opposition forced Wong to shelve the Tseung Kwan O proposal in July, while legislators also decided to delay discussion of the Ta Kwu Ling and Tuen Mun plans.

Yesterday’s proposal sought funding for a consultancy study on the design and construction of the Tseung Kwan O landfill expansion, and compensation for acquiring land for the Ta Kwu Ling landfill. Wong said the cash would not be used until Legco approved the expansion plans.

The government also wanted to study the feasibility of improving roads leading to the Tuen Mun landfill, as requested by the district council. Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, also a Tuen Mun district councillor, said the government should have gotten approval from the district council before presenting the plans to Legco. “The pretext of the preparation work was that the expansion would go ahead, and that is not agreed by the district council,” he said.

Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, of the Labour Party, said the government’s move was inappropriate. “If we passed these items, but then the landfill expansions could not go ahead, it would be a waste of public resources,” he said.

Lawmakers also wanted the government to withdraw another item for the proposed incinerator, but Tse said the study had already begun so they could no longer take it away. It was passed together with other applications.

Wong said the studies did not mean the expansions would go ahead. “We still need to submit our proposals to Legco,” he said. “The lawmakers raised their opposition too late, making communication difficult.”

He said he did not expect such controversies and the withdrawal was for the “overall interest”, as other items in the reserve fund proposal could be stalled if it was not passed. “We included the items in the proposal according to existing mechanisms. I’m surprised it sparked controversy.”

The government would continue to talk to district councils and submit an overall waste management plan to Legco before March, Wong said.

11 Jan 2014

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