Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said that neither he, nor other officials, were aware that Financial Secretary John Tsang would refuse to answer questions from four pro-democracy lawmakers the government has brought legal action against.
During Monday’s session at the legislature, Tsang said he would not respond to lawmakers “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Edward Yiu Chung-yim and Lau Siu-lai, on the grounds that there are pending judicial review challenges from the government over their oath-taking ceremonies.
The meeting was then prematurely adjourned. The government later backtracked on its position in mere hours.
“If I knew of this matter beforehand, it would be discussed internally in the government. I think we do not have to go to the extent that we reject questions from four lawmakers,” Leung said ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday.
Tsang said during the Monday session that he made the statement after he received legal advice from the Department of Justice, and he needed to follow the government’s stance stated in previous letters to the president of the Legislative Council by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.
A letter from Lam on October 31 said: “public officers attending meetings of the Council or its committees will only respond to questions or comments from such Members who have duly taken the LegCo Oath in accordance with the law.”
Leung confirmed Tsang had received the legal advice and said he learned of the incident around lunchtime. He called Lam and understood that she had set up a meeting with the chair and vice-chair of LegCo’s House Committee, and the government decided to notify LegCo that it was willing accept questions from the four lawmakers, despite the relevant legal advice.
Asked if Tsang wrongly understood the legal advice, Leung said he did not wish to “talk about the question of responsibility here.”
“On the basis of the legal advice, we do not have to go to the extent that we reject questions from four lawmakers, because we treasure the relationship between the administration and the legislature,” he said.
On Monday night after the government made a U-turn, Tsang said repeatedly that his statements were made following the legal advice he received to express the government’s stance. He said he was not being tripped up when asked by reporters.
“Of course not, how was I being tripped? We have always done things according to the government’s stance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leung said on Tuesday that the legal challenges did not involve any political consideration, that they were only lodged on the basis of advice from outside senior counsel and the government’s own legal advisers.
Leung did not directly respond to questions as to whether the government will continue lodging legal challenges against other lawmakers, such as pro-Beijing politician Wong Ting-kwong who missed “Hong Kong” when taking his oath.
Leung also remained tight-lipped about his re-election: “I will notify you as soon as possible when I have made a decision.”
Editor’s note: Digital media outlets such as Hong Kong Free Press are currently barred from attending government press conferences.