Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers have said they are “willing to examine” Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposal to spend an extra HK$3.6 billion per year on education in the final finance meeting of the legislative year on Wednesday.
The pro-democracy camp’s tensions with the government and the pro-Beijing camp have escalated since last Friday’s High Court ruling to disqualify four of its lawmakers, bringing the total number of ousted legislators to six.
The Legislative Council Finance Committee met last Friday and Saturday in an attempt to pass a number of funding proposals. However, Friday’s meeting was adjourned after the court announced its decision to oust lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu from their seats.
Saturday’s meeting was interrupted numerous times as the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camp traded insults. The four disqualified lawmakers also attempted – but failed – to enter the meeting room.
Wednesday will be the final Finance Committee meeting before the legislature breaks for summer. Pro-Beijing committee chair Chan Kin-por has placed the HK$3.6 billion education proposal as the first of eight items on the meeting’s agenda.
At a Tuesday evening press conference, the Democratic Party’s James To said that there was a consensus among pro-democracy legislators that they are willing to examine the proposal. “This is because many people in society show great concern for these funds,” he said.
However, he did not disclose what other actions his colleagues would take on Wednesday. He also did not clarify whether a willingness to “examine” the proposal meant to vote in favour of it. “Examine means examine,” he said.
To added that the legislature could no longer function as normal if the government did not take remedial steps to rebuild trust with the opposition, following the ousting of six of its lawmakers.
“If [the government] cannot show great determination to untie this knot, pro-democracy legislators – and the pro-democracy camp – cannot have a normal relationship with the government.”
Hong Kong’s new leader Carrie Lam promised to spend an extra HK$5 billion per year on education during her election campaign earlier this year. Three days after she took office, she announced how she planned to use the initial portion of these funds, amounting to HK$3.6 billion.
In particular, the plans include an annual HK$30,000 subsidy for every student studying for an undergraduate degree in Hong Kong’s self-financed higher education institutions. The subsidy would be provided to all students who meet academic requirements without means testing.
Most members of the pro-democracy camp have supported the funding proposal. But they have also questioned whether the HK$30,000 subsidy could also be extended to self-financed degree-takers in Hong Kong’s eight government-funded universities, such as the University of Hong Kong.
Items that remain to be discussed on Wednesday include a proposal to increase the salaries of civil servants, as well as other Hongkongers whose wages fall under the civil service pay scale – such as employees of some government-funded NGOs.
Finance Committee chairperson Chan has placed this proposal at the end of the meeting’s agenda. It is scheduled to be discussed after the committee votes on whether to fund various infrastructure projects.