Are illegal structures more important than Leung’s leadership skills?

Michael Chugani says we need to decide which is more important: the chief executive’s morality or his ability to get things done

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2012, 3:49am

Richard Nixon lied about the Watergate cover-up. Bill Clinton lied about his sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. And Leung Chung-ying's alleged lie? Minor unauthorised structures at his Peak home. OK, a lie is a lie, whether it involves a flower trellis or something as sensational as a US president's involvement in the cover-up of a secret break-in at a rival party's headquarters. But does lying about minor illegal structures make Leung unfit to lead? Clinton lied about a major sex scandal and yet went on to become one of America's most popular presidents.

Some argue Leung's sin is not as simple as what he knew and when he knew about his illegal structures. It's that he duped us into believing he was more qualified morally to lead than election rival Henry Tang Ying-yen, who had tried to cover up his luxurious illegal basement. If I remember correctly, Tang owned up fairly quickly when caught. He faced the cameras with his sobbing wife to apologise. His biggest sin was letting his wife take the blame for the basement. That cost him the election. Leung, however, didn't come clean that quickly. He delayed and dodged for months.

But it is academic now to wonder whether Tang, dubbed the well-meaning but stupid pig during the election, would have made a more honest leader than Leung, dubbed the cunning wolf. Like it or not, Leung is our leader. The question before us is what is best for Hong Kong, to take a moral stand and demand his resignation, or to hold our noses and let him lead so he can tackle our many urgent social issues?

Taking a moral stand means dragging out the current political turmoil indefinitely. Leung won't resign unless the central government makes him. And that won't happen unless there is a repeat of the 2003 protest when half a million people took to the streets, which forced the resignation of Tung Chee-hwa. But looking the other way means letting a liar lead. Can we be sure he won't dupe the people again?

Let's match Leung's illegal structures with what he's done as leader in the six months he's been in office. He blocked the flood of mainland women hogging our hospital beds to give birth here, cracked down on parallel goods traders, reversed an easing of visa rules that would have seen even more mainlanders swamping our city, introduced measures to cool the property market, imposed a hefty tax on mainland property speculators, set aside land for flats that will be available only to Hongkongers, and agreed to setting a poverty line.

That's a lot by any measure. His predecessor had resisted doing many of those same things despite immense public pressure. But instead of being praised for what he has achieved, Leung is being pummelled. Does that mean we demand integrity more than achievement from our leaders?

John F. Kennedy was a womaniser but is remembered as a great US president. Jimmy Carter is a man of integrity but is remembered as a failed president. Do we let Leung's questionable integrity get in the way of his achievements? Is a liar unfit to leader no matter what? Or do we say, as many do, "OK, he is shifty but let him achieve things for us"?

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. mickchug@gmail.com