A good leader doesn't need a rule book
When in doubt, set up an expert panel to investigate and propose guidelines. That seems to be the playbook the world over for officials taking too much public heat. It buys time, changes the subject and by the time the panel comes up with anything months later, everyone may have lost interest.
This time-honoured exercise is especially risk-free for officials in Hong Kong because people appointed to such panels are inevitably 'safe pairs of hands' or pillars of the establishment who will not rock the boat.
That appears to be the goal of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in appointing a five-member panel led by retired chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang to draw up new rules of conduct for his successors and other principal government officers. But it is a wholly unnecessary exercise. Worse, the guidelines will make future chief executives look like civil servants who need to be told how to deal with the public.
The so-called luxury scandal surrounding Tsang is collateral damage from mud-slinging in the chief executive race. No one will take much interest in it after a new chief executive has been chosen later this month. The favours Tsang accepted from his rich friends do not seem to reach the level of corruption or collusion. His problem is not the result of a lack of guidelines, but of a lack of judgment and discretion.
What political leaders need to possess is political sensitivity about how their private dealings might appear to the public. If a chief executive needs guidelines to operate, he is unfit for the job. In any case, the anti-corruption ordinance under the ICAC already functions like a sword of Damocles over every public official.
Li, an honourable man, is in danger of looking ridiculous when he consults the public on drawing up the new guidelines, the development of which should be a matter for governance experts. An unnecessary exercise is made even more superfluous.