Leung Chun-ying must settle illegal-structures matter now
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has finally given an account of the affair of illegal structures at his Peak home - five months after news reports alleged he may have covered up unauthorised building works at the two houses while campaigning for election in March. Contrary to his previous remarks, Leung conceded that some of the structures were put up after he had moved in. He also revealed that there are more add-ons than previously disclosed; he blamed a lapse of memory for his poor handling of the matter.
It is good to see that Leung has given a thorough account, and most important of all, an apology to the public for the way he has handled the controversy. He reiterated that he was only careless. There was no question of a cover-up, he said. He urged the people to give him a chance and move on.
So far there is no evidence to conclude Leung has lied about illegal structures. That he has sought to play down the controversy as a matter of negligence rather than integrity is to be expected. But it remains to be seen whether the public will see matters in the same light and heed his call.
The explanation - contained in a 14-page statement with copies of records - is open and comprehensive. Yet it raises fresh questions. For instance, Leung revealed that there were more illegal structures than previously identified by the Buildings Department in June. According to his statement, he realised there was a basement at his residence as early as October last year. But he only walled up the space, without alerting the department to seek its approval. It also has to be asked why Leung attacked election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen over the illegal basement at Tang's Kowloon Tong home during a televised debate in March but remained silent about his own case. When pressed by the media again yesterday, Leung said only that he had not sought to cover up anything.
If his explanation is intended to clear the air, it does not go far enough. As the South China Morning Post has reported, Leung attributed the discrepancies in his accounts to a faulty memory. We appreciate that the structures in question date back years, but given the importance of the matter, the chief executive is expected to give an unequivocal account.
The way the affair has been handled is disappointing. Controversy has been dragging for five months. It is imperative the chief executive settle the row once and for all and get on with more pressing issues on the agenda.