Leung, Tang and Suen mysteries still left begging for answers

Mike Rowse says the public awaits answers to our own whodunits

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 June, 2013, 11:50am

The Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap was recently staged at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, to the delight of its fans. The play has been running for 60 years in London's West End, and can only be performed outside that area once a year anywhere in the world. So finally getting it to Hong Kong was quite a coup.

Ms Christie is best known for her crime novels, especially those featuring her Belgian policeman turned private detective, Hercule Poirot.

Hong Kong, too, is famous for its own mysteries, and some would tax the powers of even the greatest investigator. Sadly, we do not have our own Monsieur Poirot. But, we are blessed with a ministerial accountability system, so there will always be a politically accountable official responsible for getting to the bottom of things.

First, we have the case of the unauthorised building works at the home of our chief executive, C.Y.Leung. There are apparently six of them, all fairly trivial in the overall scheme of things. But, we have as yet no explanation of who authorised them, who erected them and what will be done about them.

Building works, whether authorised or not, do not just turn up. The owner or occupier has to request them, and someone has to build them. Clearly this is a case for Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po. It is well past time for the community to have an update on progress of the investigation.

The second, and much more serious, case concerns the illegal basement under the home of former chief secretary and rival chief executive candidate, Henry Tang Ying-yen.

Now, unlike the minor works in Leung's home, construction on this scale requires plans to be prepared by an authorised person and approved by the Buildings Department.

Pictures widely circulated on the internet clearly show that piling to provide for the basement was incorporated in the original construction and must have been designed in. If I have seen them, presumably the building inspector has seen them too.

So, our intrepid investigator, if such we have, has a pretty obvious set of questions to find the answers for. Did the original submitted plans show the basement as well as the piling, or just the latter? Was it technically possible and practicable for the basement to have been added later? How was such an enormous illegality, if already present, missed on the final inspection?

It's a fairly straightforward case, also for Chan, and indeed the Buildings Department report was due to have been finished in May. When might we all be allowed to know what is in it? One possible reason for delay is the Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation of the case.

The third mystery is in some ways the most serious of all. How was it possible for a company to be paid HK$72 million - HK$1 million a month for six years - to prepare teaching materials to be used for the proposed mandatory subject of national education.

The spending of taxpayers' money is taken very seriously in Hong Kong. Indeed, the Public Finance Ordinance is Chapter 2 of our laws, coming straight after the all-important Interpretation and General Clauses law. The financial secretary has major responsibilities, along with powers to make regulations, to help him in the discharge of those duties. There are strict limits on how much money can be spent before a public tender exercise must be conducted. In this case, were all the procedures followed and limits respected?

Our unfortunate Education Minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim may not like the idea of investigating actions of his predecessor, Michael Suen Ming-yeung. Perhaps the financial secretary throughout the exercise, John Tsang Chun-wah, is better placed to uncover the facts.

But if either is reluctant, then there is a fallback: Director of Audit David Sun Tak-kei has a duty to ensure that all public servants have secured value for money. Let us have a full investigation and detailed report before jumping to conclusions.

These three mysteries are very different in significance, but they have one important factor in common: silence is not an option. Hong Kong people have a right to know whodunit.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk