Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers on Wednesday urged the city’s leader to do more to alleviate residents’ hardship and contain the coronavirus pandemic, as they went over the contents of her policy address rolled out in November.
The Legislative Council kicked off a three-day meeting to debate the passage of a traditional motion of thanks, which was introduced on Wednesday by House Committee chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king, who also heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), the city’s largest pro-Beijing party.
The annual tradition is a formal acknowledgement of the city leader’s speech laying out his or her policy for the year, though it has no bearing on actual implementation.
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In November, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled a lengthy policy blueprint aimed at rebuilding confidence in a city beset by political turmoil and financial uncertainty, promising to restore social and constitutional order and revive the ailing economy. The policy address came weeks after the mass resignation of opposition lawmakers in protest against the government’s disqualification of four of their colleagues earlier that month.
At the Legco meeting on Wednesday, Lee said that while her party was in favour of passing the motion of thanks, officials must step up their game in fighting Covid-19, and help those facing financial hardship amid the city’s economic recession.
“The government needs to consider launching mandatory testing for everyone,” she said. “In Shijiazhuang, 13 million people were tested twice in a week … Mainland authorities’ ability to mobilise and coordinate is unquestionable.
“If Hong Kong needs the central government, please do not hesitate to ask for help,” she added.
Lee was referring to mainland authorities’ ongoing battle against an outbreak in Hebei province, which saw hundreds of people infected over two weeks, most of them in the provincial capital Shijiazhuang. The city has been locked down since the outbreak began.
Lee also said that apart from creating 30,000 temporary jobs for those who had been laid off, the government must also reconsider its reluctance to offer more financial assistance.
“We proposed offering each unemployed resident at least HK$6,000 [US$774] a month, for at least three months. This would only cost the government less than HK$10 billion,” she suggested.
“The unemployed should also be able to use what they have contributed to the Mandatory Provident Fund, as many middle-class families are not eligible for social security assistance.”
Hong Kong unemployment hit a 16-year high of 6.6 per cent in the final quarter of last year, with the city mired in an ongoing fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
Lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok, chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, the second largest pro-establishment party in the legislature, also urged officials to implement tougher measures to achieve the government’s “zero-infection” goal.
“There are more than 200 initiatives in the policy address … but if we cannot succeed in fighting the pandemic and easing people’s woes, the plan to reboot the economy will just be empty words,” he warned.
“The government needs to show a stronger sense of commitment, expand the scope of mandatory testing … and arrange for residents to be vaccinated.”
Lo also proposed introducing a mandatory health code system, so restaurants and shopping malls could open to residents without worrying about transmissions by asymptomatic carriers.
Wednesday’s Legco meeting, which was also attended by Hong Kong’s top ministers, was finally adjourned in the evening after stretching on for about seven hours, with a total of 21 lawmakers speaking. The first segment of the marathon hearing on the motion, focusing on political and economic issues, is expected to end on Thursday with the ministers’ responses.
Lawmakers will then shift their focus to housing, youth and livelihood issues, before voting on the motion on Friday.
Since taking office in 2017, Lam has delivered four policy addresses, with lawmakers formally thanking her for the first two by way of the symbolic motion.
But the motion of thanks was not introduced in 2019, as opposition lawmakers held up the House Committee’s work with months of filibustering to stop a national anthem law and other bills from being approved.