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Deputy President, I move the motion as printed on the Agenda.
Deputy President, the occupation movement has evaporated from our streets into the thin air. Unfortunately, the stand-off between the pan-democrats and the Government continues in this Council, resulting in the lacklustre pace in vetting and approving funding applications for infrastructure projects, which has already created an unwarranted situation that could bring about a medium-to-long-term detrimental effect to the socio-economic development of Hong Kong. This concern is the essence of my motion debate.
Deputy President, I shall start this motion debate with a question: Have we, in the past 18 months, as legislators of this esteemed Council, discharged our duties diligently as required under Article 73(3) of the Basic Law, which require our vetting and approving of government expenditure?
Judging from the records of our performance in approving funding proposals of capital works projects, we have failed desperately. In the 2013-2014 Session, we approved capital works projects to the tune of a meagre $3.6 billion. Compared to over $90 billion in the 2012-2013 Session and over $160 billion in the 2011-2012 Session, this represents a drop of over 90% and is really a shameful act of this Council.
Such a significant drop is significantly due to filibustering and the recent non-cooperation movement launched by some of the pan-democrats. They manipulated established procedures and delayed the progress of meetings by submitting a multitude of amendments, raising repetitive and superfluous questions and moving motions to adjourn the discussion of agenda items, resulting in the sabotaging of quite a number of funding applications for economic and social development projects, many of which were postponed,
shelved or even withdrawn.
Over the past few years, filibustering took place during debates on government budgets and motions related to constitutional development and rarely on socio-economic and livelihood issues, but with the recent 31 August Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) on the election of Chief Executive for 2017, the non-establishment groups have extended the battle lines to every aspect of the work of this Council, with the intent to confront and immobilize the SAR Government and its policies. Many scheduled funding applications of infrastructure projects are entrapped in unnecessary debates and delays for the sake of political combat and confrontation. This development is really a political tsunami.
Not long ago, it was the pride of this Council that we adopted a rational and pragmatic manner in handling Council issues for service to the community. The majority of our Members were rational when handling socio-economic matters. While heated debates and conflicts over constitutional development have continued over the last 17 years, often harsh and bitter, for social and economic issues, we were able to agree to disagree and resolve conflicts at the discussion table by examining and considering government proposals in a fair, co-operative and constructive manner. In response to the many previous accusations against the democrats of being “anti-government” and stirring up unnecessary trouble in this Council, the pan-democrats used to argue, and rightly so, that apart from constitutional issues, they did not oppose for the sake of opposition, as proven and evidenced by the support and co-operation given to the SAR Government on socio-economic and livelihood-related projects and on government legislation. Now, the current non-cooperation movement of the pan-democrats is a drastic change of tactic from co-operation to confrontation, even extending to non-political and socio-economic policies. They have adopted an overly aggressive attitude to fight in every issue, particularly the capital works projects, for the sake of obtaining the so-called “genuine universal suffrage”. If no changes are made, the SAR Government, Hong Kong’s economy as well as the livelihood of people will all suffer from significant adverse consequences.
Deputy President, as we all know, infrastructure projects affect all walks of life, both economically and socially. Both our competitiveness and our long-term development depend on these capital works projects. Thus, no matter how big our conflict over constitutional development or how unhappy some of us may be with the SAR Government and the leadership of the present Chief Executive, I firmly believe that we should not regard the relevant funding applications as bargaining chips and use them to put pressure on the SAR Government. After all, constitutional development is only one part of the overall development of Hong Kong. Fighting for democracy and “genuine universal suffrage” should not be bundled up with issues that affect our economy and local livelihood. Otherwise, the overall interest of Hong Kong will be damaged irrevocably.
Deputy President, we all know our competitiveness is of vital importance to Hong Kong’s survival. A scarcity of land and natural resources pushes us to leverage on our advantages in the rule of law, institutional structure, efficiency, infrastructure and geographical location. Over the years, thanks to our outstanding infrastructure network, Hong Kong has continued to gain top positions in global competitiveness rankings. However, with severe global competition, we must continue to sharpen our competitive edge. It is now our choice, as elected representatives of the people, to grow or to rot, and the buck stops here in this Council. We are here to approve or disapprove the Government’s funding proposals of capital works projects for the growth of Hong Kong. In fact, Deputy President, years of heavy investment in infrastructure has not only equipped us with an abundance of space for further development, it has also provided us with an effective and efficient transport network for social, cultural and commercial activities. Most importantly, our connections with
neighbouring areas have been enhanced, facilitating further integration, strengthening our position as an international city and laying a solid foundation for our sustainable development and as a leading city of Asia.
Furthermore, investment in infrastructure projects holds a special position in improving local livelihood. Regrettably, the outstanding applications in 2013-2014 cover projects such as the construction of schools, public hospitals, public housing, sewage works, and the list goes on and on. The delay in approving these projects, for which we have only approved $3.6 billion, has actually precipitated many problems for the future development of Hong Kong, affecting the livelihood of the people. Given that our infrastructure projects
have been delayed, the development of new areas has also being affected. We have already wasted precious time over the last 18 months, it is now time to catch up or we will lose out.
On the other hand, Deputy President, the construction industry has expressed deep concern over the delay of funding for infrastructure projects. There are currently 360 000 construction workers in Hong Kong, who constitute about 10% of local employees, supporting the livelihood of over 1 million people. Following previous downturns in the construction industry, many construction workers became then unemployed, making them extremely sensitive to decreases in the funding of infrastructure projects. They worry that continued delays in funding will cast a shadow over the development of the construction industry and create a domino effect in which industry enterprises will cut their investments in response to the lack of cash flow caused by the drop in government funding. At the same time, the problem of ageing and the lack of new blood is also hampering the construction industry at the moment, resulting in the present shortage of skilled labour, as we have discussed this morning. Young workers not only worry about demanding better work environment but are also concerned about the prospects of the industry. Not only do they want to see a fair return for their hard work but also good prospects should they decide to join the construction industry. If funding continues to be disrupted, projects will not commence as scheduled in the next seven to 10 years, creating a vacuum of uncertainty that will lead to a further decrease in the number of new workers coming into the industry.Past experience has actually shown that in such cases, the number of new construction workers will drop and this is the present situation in Hong Kong.
Deputy President, the past and the present delays will also mean that construction costs of the outstanding projects will also increase even further, unnecessarily wasting even more public money to complete these projects.
The SAR Government is the applicant for these funds and its liaison, particularly with the pan-democrats, is apparently ineffective. Thus, in today’s motion, I propose that the Administration should face up to these problems and proactively work with this Council to seek solutions for the sake of Hong Kong as a whole. We should focus on the overall and long-term interests of Hong Kong, instead of the potential gains or losses of some individuals or political parties.
I started off with a question, and I would like to conclude with a challenge to Members of this Council: That we should diligently discharge our duties under Article 73(3) of the Basic Law to approve government’s projects to the tune that we actually approved in 2011-2012, that is, $160 billion, or whatever the Government gives to us.
Thank you, Deputy President.