Leung Chun Ying

Arts hub juror defends C.Y. Leung

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 February, 2012, 12:00am

A juror from an arts hub design contest has come forward in a bid to clear up conflict of interest claims involving chief executive hopeful Leung Chun-ying.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post a day before lawmakers vote on whether to invoke special powers to investigate the matter, Professor Chang Hsin-kang - one of Leung's nine fellow jurors selecting the winner of the arts hub design competition in 2002 - tried to reconstruct what happened during the vetting process.

He said that in the absence of a full disclosure of documents relating to the selection as yet, it was vital everyone knew what happened. 'I had hoped that the government would disclose the documents to put an end to the dispute. But instead of disclosing it fully, the government has caused more concern about it,' he said. 'Since Leung has a chance to become our next chief executive, his credibility and integrity is a very important issue to everybody, including myself.'

Chang, who retired as City University president in 2007, said he did not endorse the candidacy of either Leung or his rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, and had declined invitations from both candidates to attend their election rallies. 'But I feel that we need to get to the bottom of this issue. Otherwise this will be a cloud forever hanging over Leung's head,' he said.

He said his concern was that both candidates would have a difficult time tackling the many challenges facing the city because of their separate unresolved controversies.

Leung's popularity has remained steady in polls despite the arts hub saga, in which he, as a juror, stands accused of conflict of interest in failing to disclose a business link between one of the contestants, a Malaysian contender, and his firm DTZ.

Leung voted for the Malaysian design - which was later disqualified - in five out of seven rounds, according to documents disclosed by the government last week.

But Chang, who favoured the design of local architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee, said his voting pattern, like Leung's, was consistent, which was unavoidable. 'I'm sure Leung was not the only one [who remained consistent in voting]. If not, how could a champion emerge?' he said. 'Just like a beauty pageant, if you have already chosen five from the 100 beauties, why would you choose another five at a later round?'

Chang said Leung should take responsibility for neglecting to declare his interests, but that it was hardly a plot as Leung was not outspoken in the three-day vetting process and did not try to influence others' views.

He said lawmakers were mixing up the significance of the project 10 years ago with its prestige today: 'Unlike what lawmakers said, it did not involve huge vested interests of over HK$20 billion as it does today; it was just a conceptual plan back then.'

Home Affairs Bureau officials have repeatedly said the government did not take follow-up action against Leung as they respected the jury's decision. But Chang said the jury had not discussed Leung's case.

'It is something that happened after the vote on the last day. Officials reported that there was one highly rated entry that needed to be disqualified because it had something to do with a juror, and we said 'okay',' he said. 'They didn't name the juror concerned. It was an item that was brought up and quickly resolved. There was no lengthy discussion or statement from Leung himself, as far as I remember.'

Despite the government denying it had records of the jury's discussion, Chang called for full disclosure from the government. He said about seven government representatives had attended the jury's meetings.

Chang is one of only a few of the 10 jurors who have remained politically neutral. Half are from overseas and the mainland. Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee nominated Tang, while Nicholas Brooke backed Leung.

Chang said the government had yet to approach him for his endorsement to disclose the records but that he was willing to provide it.

'That last thing I want to do is get myself into the public domain again. But so few people are in possession of this knowledge and the public has the right to know,' he said.