Let Tsang finish his term, then conduct a proper probe

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am


Will he or won't he step down from the position of chief executive during the last month of his term? That is the question on many people's mind about Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's fate, which will probably be decided in the middle of this month when he is scheduled to have his last question-and-answer session with the Legislative Council.

Tsang's voluntary resignation is probably wishful thinking on the part of the politicians who had tried to score points with the public by humiliating this lame duck. For their wish to come true, they must be able to muster so much public pressure on Tsang that he would prefer to bow out rather than sit tight for just two more weeks.

Tsang has admitted having done a number of improper things, but, as it now stands, they are all in grey areas; though immoral, they cannot be described as unlawful. And I don't see much public furore; you won't find people taking to the streets in his final days vowing to kick him out.

Impeachment is a viable alternative but there is simply not enough time to complete the process as stipulated by the Basic Law. There is not enough time even to set up a Legco investigation under the Powers and Privileges Ordinance.

Such being the case, many people in the establishment tend to take a more pragmatic view and prefer to let Tsang finish his term. He has two very important tasks at hand, the obvious one being a smooth handover to Leung Chun-ying's administration. Let us not forget that this year is also the 15th anniversary of the handover from the British, a time for celebration. President Hu Jintao is expected to visit Hong Kong around July 1 to officiate at a series of important events, including Leung's swearing-in.

If Tsang holds the fort well, in Beijing's eyes, a lot of his sins will be forgiven. His chances of replacing Tung Chee-hwa as vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference are now thinner than a piece of paper, but he does have his knighthood.

While everybody is immersed in the speculation over Tsang's future, the role of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in this case is conspicuously missing in the discussion. The pan-democrats, the Civic Party in particular, seem happy that our chief executive is under investigation by the ICAC. People in general believe that nobody should be above the law, but probably don't put much thought into how to rein in the chief executive and stop any abuse of power.

On reflection, our way of handling this problem defies constitutional logic. As the head of a regional government, the chief executive should be subject to the supervision and discipline of the central government. It is ludicrous for the ICAC - a commission under the chief executive - to initiate an investigation of (and perhaps prosecute) its direct superior.

Besides, our chief executive is supposed to hold secrets entrusted only to him. Can we trust the ICAC to conduct a highly intrusive investigation against the chief executive? At some point, the central government will inevitably have to step in, whether the pan-democrats like it or not. As it is, the current investigation is far from thorough.

Even if we regard our chief executive as somewhat equivalent to a head of state, he is entitled to executive privilege and can only be properly investigated and prosecuted after his term ends. When Tsang leaves office on June 30, it does not mean that his responsibility for his decisions and actions will end. The next session of Legco can still launch an investigation of him, under the auspices of the powers ordinance, possibly resulting in a court case and perhaps even jail time, should something unlawful be found. The ICAC can then be brought into play, if necessary, because there will be no conflict then. This is the only meaningful course of action to take.

In the meantime, leave Tsang and his ICAC alone.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development