Motion on “Legislative Council Power and Privilege Ordinance (Power Tariffs Increase)”(2012.02.08)

Hon KP Chan on Motion to Invoke Power under the Legislative Council (Power and Privilege) Ordinance at the Legislative Council Meeting on 8 February 2012

• At the end of last year, the two power companies were strongly criticized for significant increases in new tariff. Although in the end they have conceded under pressure with readjustments of increases, their corporate images are unavoidably tarnished. At the beginning of last month, Our House Committee has resolved to invoke our power under the Legislative Council (Power and Privilege) Ordinance (LCPPO) to compel the Government to furnish us with documents in support of tariff increases, including their justifications in detail and development plans for the next five years.

• I fully agree that this Council has a duty to oversee services of power companies because they are public utilities. Their tariffs directly affect livelihood but people do not have choice of supplier. Therefore, we have a duty of oversight to ensure there is a right balance between any increase in tariff and reasonableness of investment returns. If the Government and power companies are uncooperative after repeated requests, we do have a case to invoke our power under LCPPO in exercising oversight.

• In the wake of intense political pressure, both the Government and power companies have conceded and agreed to furnish relevant information. A document list is also submitted to demonstrate their good faith in resolving the dispute. This is encouraging. However, some learned colleagues are still skeptical. They argue that power companies are only yielding to the threat of LCPPO and what they would eventually disclose to the public is a different matter.

• I am not a member of the Panel on Economic Development, but I have read relevant documents and attended the closed door meeting. Of course, classified information may not be revealed to the public but these documents show that tariff adjustments of this year are driven by forecast rise in fuel cost. It is the Government’s duty to verify these estimates and ensure that they are sound, reasonable and accurate.

• I always consider LCPPO as extraordinary power entrusted to this Council. It should not be invoked indiscriminately or without good cause. It is a reserved power under exceptional circumstances when there is a matter of considerable public interest and there is no better means of finding out the truth for the benefit of society. We must ensure that such power would not be abused.

• On the other hand, Hong Kong is a business society. According to international practice, privileged commercial information should be protected and respected. Power companies are public utilities and thus subject to public oversight. Yet, they are listed businesses as well and their legal rights should also be safeguarded. If this Council intends to invoke LCPPO, we must have full justification. Otherwise, Hong Kong might lose it appeal to international investors.

• In my views, therefore, as both the Government and power companies have offered to furnish related information, we should leave it to the Panel on Economic Development to follow up and examine it. If power companies refuse to provide crucial information or withhold data, we would have a stronger and justifiable case to consider invoking LCPPO.

• Many learned colleagues are questioning the need of the five-year development plans. I trust that specialists in the Government are best qualified to analyze those figures and challenge their reliability. As such public interest would be safeguarded.

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