Keep out of probe, Carrie Lam told
Lawmakers called for Development Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to step aside as the furore over illegal structures at chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's home continues, with fears of a conflict of interest during an investigation by the Buildings Department.
Lam, widely tipped to be the next chief secretary when Leung takes office on July 1, refused to add to previous comments that attempted to allay fears that the investigation would be tainted because of her close ties with the incoming leader.
'She has already answered these questions and there's nothing to add,' a spokesman for Lam said.
On Friday, Lam said the director of buildings was heading the investigation and there were safeguards to ensure the Buildings Department enforced the law.
'There is absolutely no room for a non-professional like myself to interfere with the inspection, the investigation, the professional judgment or the enforcement,' Lam said.
However, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said this was not the case. 'I do believe it should be taken care of by those who are not going to be politically appointed members of the coming administration.'
She added that it was a particularly sensitive issue with the change of leadership just days away. 'Since her potential position is even higher, it's more proper for her to step aside.'
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, a lawmaker for her New People's Party, said there was a strong case for an independent authority to be called in.
'There's a potential conflict of interest and it's unethical for a subordinate to investigate their boss,' Ip said.
'In view of the fact that she will likely be promoted, it would be more desirable for a more independent oversight authority to be involved.'
Ip said Lam 'investigated Henry Tang's illegal structures robustly. She is expected to do the same with any other chief executive candidate or important person'.
Earlier this year, Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung made a decision to delegate authority to the director of public prosecutions, Kevin Zervos, in the investigation of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan.
Hui was arrested on allegations of bribery and misconduct in public office, along with the co-chairmen of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong.
Wong said Zervos was appointed because he 'has no connection with the persons involved in the case' and 'to avoid any possible perception of bias or improper influence'.
University of Hong Kong law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming said existing procedures provided safeguards against conflicts of interest during investigations of high-ranking officials. 'We already have some basic policy and government rules in dealing with these illegal structures, so there needs to be some transparency on the way the matter is handled and that it meets the established procedures.'
In such cases, a subordinate would be asked to carry out first-level investigations. After that, 'if there's a need to decide if there should be any prosecution, the established procedures would be to refer the matter to the Department of Justice'.
The more pressing issue is a possible criminal investigation and to ensure the Independent Commission Against Corruption handled the matter independently, he said.