My Take

Equal opportunities chief should start with battle cry, not a whimper

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 2:51am

As the closest thing to a human rights body in Hong Kong, the duty of the Equal Opportunities Commission is to take a forthright stance on what is right, rather than following the dictates of public opinion.

In any case, on an issue as polarised as legislating for gay rights, there can be no real public consensus. The government may take that as an excuse to do nothing. But it is not the way to go for the commission.

So it is hardly promising that the new commissioner, Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, in announcing his appointment yesterday, repeated the government's line exactly.

The outgoing chief, Lam Woon-kwong, has openly stated support for consultation and legislation to protect sexual minorities.

It was partly his push that put Leung Chun-ying's administration under pressure to address the issue, which in turn provoked a backlash from a powerful alliance of Christian groups. In the event, the chief executive ruled out even consultation in his first policy address, to the disappointment of gay activists and to the elation of religious groups.

The commission is supposed to be independent of the government. It has too little power to move any legislative proposal to protect gay rights without government support. But its job isn't to make life easy for the government.

It's clear that given its mandate, it should take a stance on the matter. Lam has done it. But now, his replacement is backtracking. Perhaps that is exactly why Chow was chosen for the job - don't rock the boat. Though Lam was a government man and a long-time civil servant, he at least understood his mandate. Given its limited powers, it's often about making a statement and, when necessary, speaking out against vested interests and a biased public.

Those pan-democrats and their media allies who succeeded in making a mountain out of a molehill about conflict of interest, with Lam concurrently serving as a convenor of the Executive Council, may now have gotten us an even weaker and less independent commissioner. Thanks for nothing!

It is still too early to predict how Chow, a former health chief, will fare as the commissioner. He may yet prove to be equal to his job or even better. But his performance yesterday was not reassuring.