Donald Tsang

No scandal in police chief's early retirement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 April, 2010, 12:00am

Police commissioner Tang King-shing made a surprise announcement recently that he was planning to retire in January, several months earlier than expected. Since the news broke, the press has speculated that Tang was under pressure to go early. When it comes to a senior official's early retirement, the local press corps almost always links it to departmental or any other kinds of scandals.

During Tang's term, the force has been engulfed by scandals, including a number of high-profile computer data leaks, an officer raping a woman in a police station, and the leaking of Edison Chen Koon-hei's sex photos.

There has even been some speculation that the pressure was too much for Tang. The force has on numerous occasions clarified and dismissed such reports but, nevertheless, rumours have continued to swirl. However, the truth always speaks louder than lies.

Taking early retirement is nothing new; many police chiefs have retired early. The previous commissioner, Dick Lee Ming-kwai, retired nine months early - five months earlier than Tang is expected to. The reason is simple: once the commissioner has reached retirement age, it is normal practice to allow ample transition time to ensure a smooth succession.

This has become an unspoken tradition of the force over the years. It guarantees the efficiency and high standards of the police. Its rules will not be affected by public pressure or individual cases. The normal retirement age in the police is 55; Tang has reached that age. But, the force's rules also state that those at directorate pay scale D4 or above - which means the level of commissioner and deputy commissioner - can stay for another two years if they are on the new retirement scheme. Therefore, Tang could stay until next May.

His successor, the current deputy commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung is already 51. If he takes over early next year, he will have a full five-year term at the helm, which will be better for stability and continuity. Therefore, it's reasonable for Tang to step down a bit earlier. The media can say whatever they want, but there is no conspiracy or other reasons to force Tang out.

To link his early retirement with scandals that happened to explode around him and even suggest that he should be responsible is utterly unfair, to say the least.

Tang joined the force in 1976 and, prior to his promotion to superintendent in 1986, he served in divisions such as the Police Tactical Unit and the Special Duties Unit. He is undoubtedly an outstanding policeman. Unfortunately, his critics queried his management experience, because he has not made any remarkable achievements as a commissioner. Nevertheless, he has been a credible and competent leader. During the World Trade Organisation Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in 2005, he was in charge of operations as deputy police commissioner. There were numerous occasions when Korean protesters confronted police, who handled those encounters with tolerance and restraint. The force did Hong Kong proud with its professionalism and patience during the events, and Tang was praised for his leading role.

It is irrational, as some have done, to criticise Tang for failing to enforce moral discipline in the force and to hold him responsible for various other scandals.

The commissioner cannot be responsible for the individual behaviour of each of the 30,000-plus officers. If we had to apply this logic, then ultimately it would be Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong and Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to be held responsible.

Media organisations have a responsibility to report the news as it is, not create it, and they should never spin the truth for profit.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.