Public Eye

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

Where's the ICAC when you need it?

Here's a multiple-choice question. The public strongly suspects wrongdoing by a senior government official. The official's boss admits there are 'grounds for the public suspicion'. Do you: a) Say to yourself 'Hmmm, very interesting' and forget about it? b) Pretend you never heard what the official's boss said? c) Investigate those grounds for public suspicion to make sure the official broke no laws? Public Eye can tell you which answer the government did not choose. But then we're sure you can easily guess it was answer c). The official is former housing director Leung Chin-man. His boss at the time was Michael Suen Ming-yeung, now the secretary for education. The public suspected developer New World gave Leung a top job after he retired as payback for Leung favouring a New World sister company in the purchase of a government housing estate while he was housing chief. Suen admitted there were grounds for this public suspicion. Legislators who investigated the government's sale of the estate to New World had no power to investigate possible wrongdoing by Leung. But they suspected possible wrongdoing, too. So they stated in their report that they agreed with what Suen said about grounds for public suspicion. So, we have a top government official as well as legislators agreeing the public had reason to suspect wrongdoing. Shouldn't that suspicion be investigated? It could be that there was no wrongdoing. But doesn't the public have a right to know the truth? Where are you, ICAC? Too busy chasing the little guys?

Saying sorry isn't enough

Is saying sorry, even when you say it twice, good enough if you're a top bureaucrat who messed up big-time? Or do the people have the right to call for blood? Civil Service Secretary Denise Yue Chung-yee messed up big-time. She allowed former housing chief Leung Chin-man to join a subsidiary of New World Development. She didn't think it was wrong for a retiring housing chief to join a big housing developer. She ignored conflict of interest. She didn't think it important that Leung had played a key role in selling a government housing estate to a New World sister company on favourable terms. When the whole messy affair blew up in the government's face, she said sorry. She said it again when legislators who investigated the mess concluded she had 'committed a grave error of judgment'. But Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has forgiven her, simply ordering her to be more careful next time. No firing, no reprimand, no public scolding, no nothing. Her supporters say she's a dedicated civil servant who deserves leniency. Public Eye is sure there are many dedicated people out there. But when they mess up big-time, they pay a price. That keeps them on their toes. But our top bureaucrats have no need to be on their toes. They have chauffeured cars. And iron rice bowls.

Why was the MTR Corp paying slave wages?

It's really nice of the MTR Corp to start paying the minimum wage of HK$28 an hour to its 2,000 contract staff next month instead of waiting until May when it becomes effective. But why was the railway operator paying slave wages to its cleaners and security staff in the first place? The minimum wage will cost the MTR about HK$5 million more. That's peanuts to them. Yet a company that's majority-owned by the government chose to manipulate workers.

The hard reality of luring business

Remember our story about Swire? They replaced the comfy sofas for public use in the basement of Three Pacific Place with the most uncomfortably hard wooden things you can imagine. Public Eye has passed by three times in the past couple of weeks. We haven't seen a single person sitting on them. Gone are the little old ladies and elderly gentlemen we used to see resting on the public couches. Now, if you want to sit comfortably you must use one of the fast-food outlets. That means you must pay for the privilege. Swire has achieved its goal.