It always takes courage to admit to a mistake. That is especially the case for a political party, which knows that any such admission will be used as ammunition against it by its opponents. So it is good that the Democratic Party has had the integrity to apologise to the Hong Kong public after discovering that nine of its members were among the many Urban Councillors who bought shares in the Kwong On Bank.
It is no excuse that these purchases appear to have been legal. By using a back-door route to buy shares in a company chaired by Urban Council chairman Dr Ronald Leung Ding-bong, the councillors clearly raised at least the possibility of a conflict of interest between their personal finances and public duties. In doing so, they damaged not only their own credibility, but also that of the council - especially when some subsequently denied any involvement to the media.
The Democratic Party has salvaged some honour by its unequivocal expression of contrition. By all accounts, party leaders were horrified to learn what had occurred, and quick to demand that the shares be returned. The grassroots Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, which has six urban councillors, also had the good grace to apologise, although in a more grudging manner.
Others involved in the purchases have not shown such high standards. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, two of whose members bought shares, has tried to wash its hands of the whole affair by insisting the purchases were purely personal investments and have nothing to do with the party.
Independent councillor Christina Ting Yuk-chee, who co-ordinated the applications, has so far refused to explain how she acquired such a large allocation of shares. Dr Leung has also failed to shed any light on the mystery.
The community has a right to expect all holders of public office to display the highest integrity. The councillors who purchased Kwong On Bank shares betrayed that trust.
Those who have apologised and returned their allocation have done something to atone for their mistake. Those councillors who have refused to explain and apologise for their actions have forfeited their claim on the respect of the community.