HONG KONG-James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party cannot be considered the rightful chairman of the bills committee for vetting the extradition law amendment bill, Executive Councilor Ronny Tong Ka-wah said on Friday.
The “bills committee” that named To as chairman is not recognized by the Legislative Council Secretariat and the Hong Kong government, and it is unfair to drag the secretariat into politics and question its neutrality, he told China Daily.
At a special meeting on May 4, the LegCo House Committee approved a guideline to nominate lawmaker Abraham Shek Lai-him as leader of the next bills committee meeting and to elect the bills committee chairman at that meeting. The guideline was approved by a majority of the bills committee members, who were required by the LegCo Secretariat to respond in writing to whether they agreed with the proposal.
Tong therefore believes it is legitimate for Shek to preside at the bills committee meeting and elect the permanent chairman today (Saturday). However, he also noticed To had claimed to be the bills committee chairman and issued a notice for a meeting also scheduled for today but half an hour earlier.
Tong said he hopes To will join the bills committee meeting.
“James To is not chairman of the bills committee. How can he say he has chaired a committee meeting in the absence of secretariat staff and government officials, while the meeting was not supported by secretariat staff and didn’t have any official records?” he said.
“The reason why James To and the opposition camp plan to have the meeting 30 minutes earlier than Shek’s meeting is: They want to occupy the meeting room and the chairman’s podium,” Tong said. “I don’t want to see any conflicts (on Saturday) because if that happens, that will further hurt LegCo’s image. Perhaps Shek may switch the bills committee meeting to another room to avoid conflicts.”
Government officials have indicated they will attend meetings arranged by the secretariat.
Since all committee members are also members of the House Committee, people should respect the guideline because it was passed by a majority. Otherwise, they violate the spirit of democracy — that the minority should abide by the will of the majority — Tong said.
If To and the opposition camp refuse to back down, it would be difficult to solve the impasse at this stage, Tong said. “The dispute may be brought to the court for settlement. But the court may not wish to intervene at this stage but rather choose to intervene after the bill is passed into law,” he said.
Tong also said he believes the secretariat and Secretary-General Kenneth Chen Wei-on have not exceeded their authority. “They simply executed the House Committee guideline and issued a notice to members by way of circulation. There is nothing wrong with the circulation method when it is not possible to call a meeting to discuss whether to accept the guideline. They have not acted beyond their powers or lost their neutrality because being neutral is not the same as acting in accordance with the wish of the minority,” he said.
“It is very unfair to drag the secretary-general and the secretariat into political struggles.”
Most recently, the opposition camp accused the secretariat of pressuring its staff by asking a female security guard to declare her political stance.
“The Legislative Council Commission shall investigate thoroughly and give the secretariat a clean bill of health if the allegation is unwarranted,” Tong said.
Difficult for govt to concede more: Tong
Alternative amendment proposals to the special administrative region’s extradition laws are not workable, and that’s why the government has not made it a priority, Executive Councilor and Senior Counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah said.
As the bills committee responsible for vetting the proposed amendments has not been able to start functioning, Tong hopes it can begin operations as soon as possible to discuss any other suggestions at its meetings.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu told a news conference on Monday that the proposals were not feasible.
Tong agreed. “For example, there is a proposal that offenders, if they are Hong Kong citizens, shall be tried in Hong Kong courts. However, there are technical problems because what people call offenses committed outside Hong Kong are only cross-border crimes, but not all the criminal acts were committed outside Hong Kong.”
“In fact, the biggest irony or inconsistency is that people think our judges in Hong Kong can try the offenders fairly, but they do not feel the (same) judges can safeguard the legal rights of fugitives to be transferred in the case of surrender of offenders to the Chinese mainland and other parts of China.”
In March, the government adjusted its original legislative proposal, removing nine offenses from the original list of 46, while at the same time increasing the threshold for extradition to offenses punishable by three years of imprisonment, up from one year.
“I thought the government had reached an agreement with the business sector. But today I heard some suggest raising the threshold to offenses punishable by imprisonment of seven to 10 years. If the government concedes again, will they demand a higher threshold of offenses punishable by a life sentence? They have not taken into consideration the overall interest of society, and the business sector appears to be pressing for further concessions from the government.
“The government shall not yield again, but it can finetune the legislative proposals by incorporating some human right safeguards in line with United Nations standards,” he said.
HONG KONG NEWS