Time to name names

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 1996, 12:00am

The possibility that the full list of nominations for the Selection Committee might not be published raises concerns over the transparency of the selection process for the first Chief Executive. That is a pity.

The Preparatory Committee went much further than expected when it threw the nomination process open to all. Early in July, when the scheme was first put forward by the sub-group working on the details, it was proposed that the full list of candidates should be made public. The Preparatory Committee appeared genuinely to want the broadest possible cross-section of the community to have a say in how the territory is to be governed and by whom. The numbers expected to apply are an indication of how widely that gesture has been appreciated. It would be a sad day for the notion of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong if that openness were now to be reversed.

A senior Chinese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed himself in terms which suggested the matter was all but closed and that the list would not be published. However, a final decision has not yet been taken and there is still time for Preparatory Committee leaders to think again.

It is an opportunity they should seize with enthusiasm. They should ask themselves if the benefits derived from shielding the candidates from the public gaze would outweigh such obvious disadvantages as the loss of public confidence and support.

The arguments offered do not justify confidentiality. The main reason for secrecy seems to be that the candidates themselves might not wish to have their names publicised. Yet they would be happy to be public figures should they be appointed. If they are genuinely committed to serving the community, they should not be embarrassed to say so. It is not the appointment which counts, but the desire to contribute. Moreover, the nomination form makes it clear names may be published 'if necessary'.

Another possibility, raised by respected Preparatory Committee member Professor Lau Siu-kai, might be that publication would put pressure on the chairman and vice-chairmen when they were preparing a short-list of candidates for the final vote by Preparatory Committee members. It might, he argued, leave their choices open to challenge.

It is profoundly worrying that this should be a consideration at all. If the Preparatory Committee leadership sincerely wished to show the choice of appointments had not been manipulated to produce a predetermined result in the race for Chief Executive, it should have no difficulty in justifying its choices from among a known list of candidates. If it admitted to looking for a majority of 'reliable' selectors, it could only be faulted if the full list showed it had not chosen cautiously enough.

The people of Hong Kong have a legitimate desire for information on the decisions and choices being made in their name. Once offered, it should not be snatched back.