Politics of Hong Kong

Audit chief has to prove critics wrong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2012, 12:00am

The public owe a lot to the Audit Commission for its professionalism and independence in ensuring that the misuse of taxpayers' money will not go uncensured. Over the decades, the department has stood out as a public-spending watchdog with credibility and support. The regular disclosure of blunders and mismanagement of resources, including the recent probe into the former chief executive's stays in luxurious hotels during business trips, shows the commission is essential for good governance and accountability.

But Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's decision to hand-pick David Sun Tak-kei, the first non-civil servant to head the commission, has raised some eyebrows. Although the principal-official position of director of audit is one of five non-political government appointments that require Beijing's approval, these posts have traditionally been filled by civil servants. Sun's two immediate predecessors came from the commission and the administrative service grade.

We do not have evidence to suggest Sun will not adhere to the commission's fine tradition. But the appointment of a political ally to such a sensitive job inevitably fuels suspicion. Sun's background also does not enhance public confidence. The 58-year-old accountant stepped down as Hong Kong and China chairman of Ernst & Young in 2009 after police raided the firm's offices in connection with a fraud probe. Sun stressed his professional conduct was never questioned.

The auditor post has existed since four years after the British set foot on Hong Kong in 1841. That speaks volumes about its importance to governance and accountability. Today, the need for an independent audit commission has been recognised worldwide. Hong Kong's interest is best served by preserving this important institutional safeguard. There is no alternative but to uphold the watchdog's independence and professionalism. The law stipulates that the commission's chief shall not be subject to the control of any person or authority in discharging its duties. Sun has to prove his critics wrong.