Time to move on

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:00am

SCMP, September 11, 2002:

With just a month to complete its investigation, the Panel of Inquiry on the Penny Stocks incident has done well to produce a thorough 181-page report. Robert Kotewall and Gordon Kwong Chi-keung have left no stones unturned in tracing and analysing what happened before and after the penny stocks crash on July 26, which had followed the release of a consultation paper on the possible delisting of such stocks by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (HKEx) the day before.

The panel's conclusion: the crash was the result of an unfortunate combination of factors. While there were 'some instances of errors of judgment and some systemic wrinkles here and there', none of the shortcomings was major, and no heads need to roll.

Given the current culture of blame that pervades the community, the panel's acerbic remarks will not go down well with those inclined to regard the exercise, however thorough and comprehensive, as a whitewash.

The Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Frederick Ma Si-hang, has been the biggest target of public criticism, because of his initial remarks that he should not be held responsible. Apparently, the panel found, he was genuinely unaware of the proposals because of lapses by his administrative assistant and his failure to read the mountains of documents in his in-tray.

Does the revelation mean Mr Ma holds no responsibility? Certainly not. Just ask those company executives who have had to apologise for errors committed by underlings whose names they probably do not know. Yet that is not to say Mr Ma should step down for his blunder. Pulled from the private sector to join the highest echelon of government just two months ago, Mr Ma was, and still is, a political novice whose major error was perhaps to have allowed his instincts to drive him to defend himself.

In the final analysis, the penny stocks crash is an indictment of the level of inexperience and lack of sophistication of key people involved in addressing the issue of ridding the local bourse of hundreds of penny stocks that are easy prey to manipulative trading.

Had the entire job of regulating listed firms been put under an independent authority, the penny stocks row might have been less damaging. Under the current setup, with the Listing Committee housed under the HKEx and comprising part-timers, a genuine consultation exercise has been turned into a battle.

Nevertheless the row should certainly not be seen as a litmus test of the so-called accountability system. What matters now is for all to learn the lessons and get on with the work of building Hong Kong.


penny stocks (n) The term refers to poorly performing stocks. In a consultation paper released on July 26, HKEx suggested delisting stocks that traded below 50 cents for 30 consecutive days. These are generally called 'penny stocks'.

leave no stones unturned (idiom) to do everything possible in order to achieve something Example: 'We have heightened security at land, air, and sea ports. We're leaving no stones unturned,' said a US immigration spokeswoman. (SCMP)

systemic wrinkles (n) problems and imperfections in a system

no heads need to roll (idiom) deviation of the idiom 'heads must roll'. Here it means no one has to be fired for things that have gone wrong.

acerbic (adj) harsh and severe Example: Lilo & Stitch is a return to the old-school cartoons enjoyed by anyone who grew up with gems such as Looney Tunes, and the humour is often just as acerbic. (SCMP)

whitewash (n) a concealment of faults

novice (n) someone who is new to something

litmus test (n) In science, it is a test for chemical acidity. Here it refers to a test using a single indicator Example : The litmus test of a good guidebook about Hong Kong is whether someone who lives here finds it accurate, practical, interesting and revealing,' wrote Ed Peters, SCMP book reviewer.

Discussion points

? To what extent do you agree that people at the top should be held responsible for errors committed by underlings?

? Imagine you were the head of the student union. An extra-curricular club, which comes under the union in the hierarchy, did something offensive to students. What would you do? Would you step down from the union?

Your views, please. E-mail: ypost@scmp.com