Lawmaker Regina Ip today told the Development Bureau (DevB) it need not listen to the public in deciding the future of the Protection of Harbour Ordinance (PHO), citing examples from the US including abortion law and the recent Afghanistan withdrawal.
“Discussing with the public is not a requirement for democracy, you discuss with the legislature,” she told Development Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun, after Wong indicated DevB would seek public views before ripping up or amending the PHO. “When the US withdrew troops from Afghanistan, it didn’t discuss with the public,” she said.
Ip also pooh-poohed a cornerstone Court of Final Appeal (CFA) harbour protection decision of 2004, earlier cited by Wong as a “challenge” the government had learned to work with over time.
“The 2004 CFA court ruling was rather harsh, I agree, but many things change,” said Ip. “Roe vs. Wade was subjected to amendment, so many things can change,” she added, referring to the landmark abortion law recently overturned in the US.
Ip also said the PHO was introduced “too hastily”.
“Back then, the conservation groups were very influential, but now, if the administration has the will to change the law, it should, because the law was made very hastily,” she said.
Wong appeared unfazed by Ip’s remarks and said DevB was committed to discussing the law with the community. “It is appropriate to discuss this with the community,” he said. “It is a good law we have to deal with properly.”
But lawmakers were almost unanimous in their support for amending the PHO to redefine harbour boundaries and to give the Chief Executive (CE) ultimate power over what counts as “overriding public need”.
Ma Fung-kwok said the PHO regulations were too stringent “and some members of the public might not be able to benefit from new projects”, while the restrictive rules “might restrict our urban development”.
Ma said it was important for harbourfront projects or reclamation proposals to be valued not just in terms of basic benefits “but also the economic value”.
Only Paul Tse Wai-chun expressed any reservations about giving the CE ultimate harbour power. “For the CE to decide what is public purpose, I think it is too crude a process and we might not be able to strike the right balance between promoting development and conserving the harbour,” he said.
But Tse agreed with Ip that the CFA 2004 ruling was not final or binding. “The PHO is not the constitution. I don’t know why the government has dragged its feet over the years. If the CFA ruling has differed from policy intention, then why hasn’t the government amended the law? We lawmakers are now forced to act so the administration is forced to address the issue.”
The Development Panel meeting was to discuss proposed amendments to the PHO put forward by lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen. As a private member’s bill with support from the panel, Mak’s proposals will be passed to the CE for approval to take to the council.
Earlier, campaigners had criticised the bill for “serious factual mistakes” and “grave misstatements”, urging lawmakers and the government to keep the PHO whole.