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‘Not debatable’: Finance Committee chair blocks debate on controversial Wang Chau housing plans

A proposal from lawmakers Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Edward Yiu Chung-yim to remove controversial projects from a bloc of 9,000 government funding requests was denied by the chairman of Finance Committee of the Legislative Council on Friday.

It was their second attempt to pull funding for the Wang Chau housing development project in Yuen Long, alongside two dozen other projects, from a pool of less controversial items.

Chu and Yiu argued last week that – according to past LegCo rules they had studied – if 20 lawmakers file a written request, items could be removed from a bloc allocation for the Capital Works Reserve Fund and be dealt with separately.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick protest wang chau november

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick. Photo: InMediaHK.

The two lawmakers were supported by pro-democrats in putting forward the request. The Wang Chau items totalled HK$122 million, out of a block of funding requests totalling HK$124 billion.

The government’s plans to build 13,000 units on the brownfield site occupied by a rural strongman’s car park were postponed after rural leaders opposed the plans in unrecorded informal consultations. However, a proposal to build a primary phase of 4,000 flats at a nearby greenbelt site occupied by non-indigenous villages was approved.

See also: In Pictures: ‘The black box of Wang Chau’ – Villagers protest controversial development plan at LegCo

Chan Kin-por, the chairman of the committee, said that he asked for legal advice from government and LegCo lawyers, and he decided that the motion by the two lawmakers did not follow the existing LegCo rules.

wang-chau-map

Map outlining the brownfield site and greenbelt zone. Photo: HKFP.

He said he wished lawmakers would not waste time on procedure: “The decision of the chairman is not debatable.”

But Yiu argued that they made the request more than six days before the meeting, and they only received a reply from Chan two hours before the meeting.

See also: In Pictures: At the centre of a political storm, Wang Chau villagers face eviction but hope for justice

He said the bloc allocation arrangement was only a measure approved by the Finance Committee itself in the past for the convenience of the Financial Secretary’s Office, and that its members have the right to ask to review the mechanism.

“Chan did not simply seek advice from LegCo, but he also asked [the government] whose power would be limited by us… it’s like he asked them ‘do you want to be limited by us more?’ Of course [the government] will say ‘you do not have the right to limit us,'” Yiu said.

Edward Yiu Chung-yim

Edward Yiu Chung-yim (left). Photo: Dan Garrett.

Chu said he understood that the government had expended a lot of resources to provide the advice to Chan.

“We have never received the full [legal advice], then Chan asks us to give a response; however, when we wanted to consult the legal advisors in the LegCo secretariat, the secretariat did not allow it – it said the LegCo advisers are for the whole committee, and they will only advise the chairman,” he said.

“We are very discontented over this decision. We believe it is very horrible too – that lawmakers do not have any support [from the secretariat],” he added.

Chan Kin-por

Chan Kin-por. File Photo: Stand News.

At the meeting, lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong said lawmakers would need more time to look into Chan’s reply. Lawmaker James To Kun-sun also said that if lawmakers could not read the full legal advice, then they could not hold a meaningful debate.

But Chan Kin-por insisted the legal advice from the government was “only for my eyes.”

Lawmaker Nathan Law Kwun-chung officially put forward an adjournment motion but it was rejected by the pro-Beijing camp.

The Finance Committee meeting continues on Friday and Saturday.

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'Not debatable': Finance Committee chair blocks debate on controversial Wang Chau housing plans