Legco secretary general sidesteps calls to resign over removal of pan-democrat bills committee chair James To, insisting he did everything by the book

08-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The chief administrator of Hong Kong’s legislature has shrugged off calls to resign, insisting his office remained politically neutral during the ousting of a pro-democracy member as chair of a key committee.

Kenneth Chen Wei-on was under pressure after the pan-democratic camp accused him of exceeding his powers to help the pro-Beijing bloc unseat the Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun from presiding over the panel vetting a controversial extradition bill. To was a key player in the opposition’s filibuster.

Chen, the non-partisan secretary general of the Legislative Council, did not give a clear answer on whether he would ask the courts to stop the unprecedented situation of two rival camps simultaneously hosting their own committees to vet the bill.

He maintained his decision was based on the Legco rule book and its conventions. Chen also stressed the secretariat had always been neutral.

Responding to calls to resign, which included an online petition signed by more than 20,000 people as of Tuesday, Chen would only look to the task ahead in passing the bill.

“What the secretariat needs to do now is to refocus our efforts on this very controversial and technical bill,” Chen said.

Legco has been plunged into a dramatic struggle between the opposing camps over the proposed new law, which would allow case-by-case transfers of fugitives to jurisdictions Hong Kong has yet to sign formal extradition agreements with, including mainland China and Taiwan.

Officials stressed the urgency of passing the extradition bill by July to respond to Taiwan’s request to extradite a Hongkonger suspected of murdering his girlfriend while on holiday in Taipei.

Chan Tong-kai was last week sentenced to 29 months in prison on related money-laundering charges but could be released by October, potentially allowing him to evade extradition.

The bill was strongly opposed by critics of mainland China’s legal system and those who feared the law would be used to victimise Hong Kong residents on political grounds.

The Legco secretariat, typically respected by both camps during even the fiercest debates, came in for rare criticism for issuing a circular to members of the bills committee on Saturday.

In that circular, the secretariat asked members to vote, on paper, on whether to adopt a non-binding guideline to replace To with Abraham Razack of the pro-Beijing camp. The guideline was issued by the House Committee, with a majority from Razack’s bloc.

Pan-democrats said the secretariat’s call for a vote on paper did not follow the convention of letting members first discuss a matter during a meeting.

The opposition decided to hold a parallel committee meeting on Saturday, the same day as the one planned by the pro-Beijing camp.

Chen on Tuesday refused to further explain his decision to issue the circular.

He also called on people to stop making “bothering and bullying” comments against Legco staff, without giving specific details.

Chen was immediately confronted by radical lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, who shouted at him: “Neutrality? You’re supposed to serve all lawmakers, but you’re only serving the pro-establishment camp! You’re bullying the pan-dems!”

Two former lawmakers from rival camps questioned the secretariat’s decision to adopt the results of the vote on paper that ousted To.

“This could be a dangerous precedent,” said Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party, who chaired the House Committee from 2003 to 2012, adding that the motion to unseat To should have been first discussed in the meeting on Saturday.

“If the circular is valid this time, why don’t we just skip all bills committee scrutiny and pass laws on circulation?” Lau asked.

Former legal sector member Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee accused the Legco secretariat of “acting outside its authority”.

Meanwhile, To said on Tuesday morning he would not use judicial means to declare the chair elected by the pro-establishment camp on Saturday illegal.

To suggested the secretariat, or even the government, petition the courts to decide which chair is valid, and engage the chairs of both camps in the case.

He also said that if the secretariat did not provide support, such as putting the minutes of the pan-democrats’ bills committee meeting online, he might himself post the content so the public is kept updated on developments and could give feedback on the bill.



Category: Hong Kong

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