Donald Tsang

For now, any luxury too dear for Donald

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 April, 2012, 12:00am


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Is our retiring chief executive stupid or does he just not care?

I have seen Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in person talking about air pollution and financial reform with an impressive command of facts and statistics. I can assure you that he is not George W. Bush-stupid, and I would even go so far as to call him almost Clinton-like smart.

So what were Tsang and his aides thinking when he stayed in a presidential suite at a hotel that charges US$6,900 a night, during an official trip to Brazil this month?

A spokesman for Tsang said there were no rules dictating what type of accommodation the chief executive could stay in during official trips.

He has it exactly right. There are no rules, only discretion.

Staying in top hotels and flying first class are perks of the job. The mayors of rich cities do indeed have their privileges, and it would reflect badly on Hong Kong if Tsang and his aides ate at McDonald's and had to travel in dirty taxis across Brasilia. I am not so bothered by the so-called Luxurygate in which Tsang was caught hobnobbing with second-tier tycoons.

But Tsang is facing an impeachment attempt by pan-democrats in the Legislative Council, who have accused him of conflict of interest in accepting hospitality from those tycoons on private jet and yacht trips, as well his plan to rent a luxury penthouse in Shenzhen from wealthy businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau.

If your enemies make an issue out of luxury, then it becomes an issue. It becomes imperative to avoid the appearance of indulging in luxury.

Tsang should have made a fuss by refusing to stay in the Brazilian presidential suite and picked a cheaper room instead, as Premier Wen Jiabao did in his 2003 visit to Hong Kong during the Sars outbreak, when he checked into the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai.

Perhaps Tsang is so addicted to luxury he just could not help himself. But for someone who has spent four decades in public office, half the time doing important jobs, he should worry about his legacy and how history will treat him.