Honour for awards panel chief

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 June, 2012, 12:00am

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Six people have won Hong Kong's highest honour - including the man who led the committee handing out the gongs.

Legal figures make up half the Grand Bauhinia Medal recipients, with Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, Court of Final Appeal judge Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary and outgoing Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung all honoured.

Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung, chairman of the honours committee, was also given the top honour. He took no part in discussions about his own award, but that did not stop criticism from some observers.

Wharf (Holdings) chairman Peter Woo Kwong-ching and property tycoon Lui Che-woo complete the list, the last to be approved by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen before he leaves office at midnight tonight.

A total of 295 people were given awards for their 'lifelong and highly significant contribution to the well-being of Hong Kong', the honours committee said in its citation.

The honour for Lam, who consistently ranks among the least popular members of the government in public polling and has been dubbed the 'the human recorder' by those who say he endlessly trots out the official line, prompted the most debate.

Lam, who plans to study theology in Britain, was honoured for his 'outstanding ability and experience in public administration' and the fact he 'has made significant contributions in helping the government steer through many challenges'.

A protocol division spokesman said Lam sat out meetings of the honours committee at which his own award was discussed.

Wong, who has won praise for his reluctance to send contentious legal issues to Beijing for interpretation of the Basic Law, was recognised for his 'significant contribution in upholding the rule of law and in safeguarding the public interest'.

Undersecretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai, expected to be the city's first secretary for culture when chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's government restructure is approved, will get a Silver Bauhinia Star, the third-highest honour.

Professor Dixon Sing Ming, a political scientist at the University of Science and Technology, said that the awards were becoming 'increasingly routine business.

'It [the list] gives the impression senior officials and those that are about to leave their posts, regardless of their work towards maintaining our core values and the 'one country, two systems' principle, will get the gongs,' he said.

'If you ask 10 people how much Stephen Lam has done that has upheld that principle, I bet all of them will say not a lot,' he said. 'The awards are becoming something that people are satirical about.'

But fellow political pundit Professor James Sung Lap-kung praised the decision to honour the three legal figures, saying it reflected a commitment to the rule of law.

Leung received the top honour last year, while convenor of the Executive Council. This year's medals will be presented in October.