Tsang has failed to live up to changing public expectations
The suspicion of possible corruption in Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's friendly ties with tycoons has prompted widespread public concern and debate. In the face of rising discontent, he finally apologised for his presumptuous behaviour and admitted that his working style had failed to meet public expectations.
Tsang, a public servant for 45 years, acknowledged that the code of conduct for civil servants is lagging behind public expectations in rapidly changing times. He said he now understood that the people want civil servants to act 'whiter than white'.
To improve the system, Tsang has set up an independent committee to review the current regulatory framework and procedures to handle potential conflicts of interests for the chief executive, non-official members of the Executive Council and political office holders. The committee will be chaired by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang.
As Tsang's long-time friend, I was hurt to hear accusations of corruption against him, with some calling him the 'No 1 corrupt official'. These allegations are unfounded and unfair. The Independent Commission Against Corruption has announced that it will conduct a thorough investigation, while Tsang has pledged his full co-operation. I am confident the truth will be uncovered.
Whatever the result, it should be said that it was inappropriate for Tsang to maintain such close ties with tycoons by going on holiday with them and accepting privileged treatment. It's not merely about whether he complied with civil service rules by paying the market price for these trips, it's about public perception. That he was seen socialising with tycoons naturally created a negative impression.
Tsang seemed unaware that the people expect their leaders and public figures to measure up to an extremely high standard in performance and personal conduct. It shows that his thinking and working style are outdated. He must feel disconnected with the people at a time when many speak of rights, inclusion and democracy.
It is disappointing that Tsang failed to recognise the importance of public perception.
Yet, while he was to blame for his oversight, many of the accusations spreading like wildfire on the internet and other media are unfounded and should be dismissed.
One accusation concerns Tsang's close ties with a mainland tycoon who is a shareholder of the Digital Broadcasting Corporation, of which I am a founder. Tsang has rented a luxury 6,800 sq ft Shenzhen apartment from Wong Cho-bau and, because of this, there have been allegations of a transfer of benefits. It's alleged that because of their close ties, Tsang granted the digital broadcasting licence to the corporation and approved former education chief Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as chairman. Tsang has admitted he should have declared his close ties with Wong. That's the end of the story.
It's a personal choice for Tsang to live in Shenzhen after retirement. A 6,800 sq ft apartment may be a luxury home, but it's relatively affordable to someone like Tsang.
The apartment complex is more than 10 years old, so the annual rent of 800,000 yuan (HK$985,000) is reasonable, and isn't below the market price, as has been claimed. Some questioned how Tsang could afford the rent, which is almost as much as his pension. Tsang has a Mid-Levels property which he has rented out at HK$50,000 per month. So, with the additional income, there shouldn't be any problem.
When Tsang first took office, I praised him as the last legend of Hong Kong. We can all see a bit of ourselves and a bit of Hong Kong in him. But, after all, he is human and can make mistakes. As a friend, I hope he has learned his lesson and is ready to move on.
I also hope the truth will come out and he will ride through the storm as he faces questions at the special Legislative Council session tomorrow.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org