Politics trumps public interest in job fiasco

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 December, 2010, 12:00am

The Legislative Council select committee's recently released report on the controversial employment of former housing director Leung Chin-man at New World China Land showed that Leung acted inappropriately as a former senior official.

The report also reproached senior officials who approved Leung's employment, with criticism mainly focused on Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue Chung-yee, who was the final gatekeeper in vetting his application.

Although the report said Yue committed 'a grave error of judgment', it wasn't explicit about whether she should resign.

Yue again made a public apology, which was widely rejected by the public. Many believe the ultimate responsibility for the fiasco rested with her; she was appointed as a principal official under the accountability system, and because of this debacle she should step down.

It was a dereliction of duty on Yue's part as she had failed to demonstrate political sensitivity in handling Leung's application and failed to understand public sentiment and expectations, which led to suspicion that she gave preferential treatment to her peer.

I am not insisting that Yue must resign, but her negligence was definitely a contributing factor to the controversy.

Even Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen strongly criticised her and issued a statement after the report's release to admit fault on behalf of the government in Leung's case.

Meanwhile, only a few legislators responded to calls for Yue's resignation. Most mainstream democrats and pro-establishment lawmakers tried to shield her from further attacks.

It's understandable that pro-government parties and lawmakers support Yue, but it's baffling to see the democrats siding with her as they are supposed to represent the public interest.

It's a well-known fact that Yue was a protege of former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang. That's why the democrats have been exceptionally forgiving towards her since the scandal broke two years ago. In order to protect her, members of the Civic and Democratic parties abandoned their principles and stopped acting as government watchdogs. Instead, they blamed the vetting system and Leung. They even claimed that forcing her to resign would affect morale in the civil service.

This shows that the pan-democrats are more likely to be swayed by political preferences than stand by their principles to safeguard the public interest. This seems rather hypocritical considering the fact that they have been critical of their opposition for being politically biased.

To be honest, forcing Yue to step down is rather meaningless because the system is designed in such a way that, as head of the Civil Service Bureau, she will be able to rejoin the civil service through the so-called revolving door. This privilege is exclusive to this office in order to give it more independence.

I have always had reservations about a revolving-door system and do not agree with a government practice that would see soon-to-retire civil servants appointed to politically accountable posts, allowing them to enjoy the best of both worlds by receiving the double benefits of a civil service pension and a high salary.

We should nurture young administrative officers for the sake of Hong Kong's political future.

The Leung Chin-man case has not only exposed a gaping hole in our accountability system, but also revealed the ugly underbelly of some politicians and their parties.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk