A legislative bills committee meeting for the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement was prematurely adjourned on Tuesday, as the chair blamed three pro-democracy lawmakers for protesting after they refused to enter the meeting room.
It was the committee’s eighth meeting in just over a month, with the government seeking to clear the legal framework for the Express Rail Link border zone before the legislature’s summer break.
The committee has 64 members – out of a total of 68 lawmakers – and the quorum needed to proceed is 21. However, 15 minutes after the meeting began, there were only 20 members in the room.
Hong Kong will effectively give up its jurisdiction across a quarter of the new West Kowloon terminus, where immigration procedures will be performed by mainland law enforcement agents. The pro-democracy camp and the Hong Kong Bar Association have cast doubt over the constitutionality of the arrangement, with critics saying it amounts to a ceding of land to China.
‘Precious meeting time’
Committee chair and pro-Beijing lawmaker Regina Ip said the poor attendance was because of the recent Easter break and upcoming Ching Ming holidays, although 27 lawmakers had stated they would attend beforehand.
“I was particularly disappointed that there were three pan-dem members, who were already present, but stepped out of the room, and declined to re-enter the room, knowing that we might have a quorum failure – that is particularly regrettable,” Ip said, referring to Tanya Chan, Leung Yiu-chung and Claudia Mo. “We lost four hours of precious meeting time.”
The next meeting will be hosted on Friday. Ip said meetings can be hosted on Sunday if necessary.
Lawmaker Tanya Chan, who leads a concern group relating to the joint checkpoint arrangement, said in response that the protest was a joint decision by the pro-democracy camp. “But for it to succeed, we happened to have the pro-Beijing camp helping us [by failing to attend],” she added.
Lawmaker Ray Chan said that the bills committee normally only hosts meetings every fortnight, to allow time for the government to answer questions from lawmakers or the public.
“Regina Ip hosts additional meetings crazily – it could be up to three meetings a week,” he said. “The government has not performed its duty in answering lawmaker questions between the meetings.”
“The pro-Beijing camp all joined the committee but they did not show up to maintain the quorum of 21 – should they take responsibility too?”
In a submission to the legislature last week, the Bar Association said that the argument provided by the government related to mainland personnel performing their duties was “curious and circular.”
“Article 22(3) [of the Basic Law] provides that Mainland personnel in Hong Kong shall abide by the laws of the HKSAR. It is difficult to understand how they are to abide by the laws of the HKSAR when the effect of the Bill is to make the laws of the HKSAR inapplicable to them,” the Bar said.
“In summary, there is nothing in the arguments of the HKSAR Government that could provide even an arguable constitutional and legal basis for the Bill. The arguments are both wholly unconvincing and unsatisfactory,” it added.
Tanya Chan said that the arrangement may have violated more than ten articles of the Basic Law: “It is just impossible to find an explanation that the arrangement is in line with the Basic Law.”
She said the government could have tried to pass an amendment to the Basic Law or an amendment to the boundary of the HKSAR as the Bar suggested, but it refused to do so to avoid constitutionality issues.