Questions for C.Y. deserve an answer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 July, 2012, 12:00am

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Leung Chun-ying's relations with the Legislative Council will go some way towards making or breaking him as chief executive. His appearance in the council chamber this week for the first of what will be many question-and-answer sessions was in a sense a dress rehearsal for the real thing. Next time he will appear before a new legislature to be elected in September. But many old faces will be back. What Leung said and did not say this week therefore matters.

From the outset the new chief executive and many lawmakers were on different pages. The latter wanted to pursue political questions that address the government's credibility - in particular Leung's integrity arising from the controversial issue of illegal structures at his homes on The Peak. They sought the full account he has been promising. He declined to answer at this time because questions of fact and veracity could be the subject of lawsuits challenging his fitness for office. Instead, he delivered the equivalent of a mini-policy address - ahead of the real one in October - and tackled pressing livelihood issues on which he ran for the city's highest position. Both sides have a point.

Leung's campaign struck a chord with the public and boosted his approval ratings - a factor in Beijing's decision to switch support away from his opponent. His ratings have since slumped amid a series of scandals that have battered the new government. As a result public expectations are twofold - action to fulfil promises, and accountability.

He has chosen action to regain the initiative and shore up his political base by showing that the administration is focusing on livelihood issues. The result is more than HK$7 billion of sweeteners targeted at the most vulnerable and needy in society, mostly for the elderly but also for families and young people who cannot afford high rents or home prices.

This will go down well with a lot of people, but reaction is mixed, with some lawmakers saying Leung should do more to answer their concerns instead of trying to shift the focus of attention. On the other hand, many people's abiding concern is what the government is going to do for them. In that respect, if livelihood issues are urgent, it was to be expected he would take the opportunity to unveil these initiatives in Legco.

It remains to be seen whether there was a good reason why he did not defend his integrity as well as keep his promises. He cannot allow the illegal structures controversy to hang over the government's head for much longer. Failure to clear the air soon could even colour the political complexion of the legislature the executive will have to deal with after September. Having just been relieved of a lame-duck government that was merely serving out its time, Hong Kong cannot afford one with any questions over integrity or legitimacy.