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  • Sep 20, 2014
  • Updated: 11:36am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's reputation suffers as rules of fair play are ignored

Stephen Vines says growing scandals reveal a government in crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 8:10am

Things are coming together, but not in a good way. It seems that hardly a day passes without the integrity of some senior government official being questioned and, worse, the system of government being undermined. Taken separately, these things are bad enough but, when considered as a whole, the picture is very disturbing.

Most recently a stab wound was delivered to the very heart of Hong Kong's main finance industry regulator, the Securities and Futures Commission, which stands accused of giving preferential treatment to Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, a member of the Executive Council and one of the closest allies of the chief executive. It appears the SFC allowed Cheung's Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange to continue trading even after it had become clear that it lacked sufficient revenue to cover its operating expenses. Criminal investigations have now begun into the company's operations.

The perception that the Hong Kong government is not clean is, to put it mildly, rather widespread

Then there was the decision to scrap the weekly meeting of Exco on the grounds that there was nothing to discuss, grounds that look rather thin when the government keeps telling legislators that there is a backlog of pressing business to attend to.

Meanwhile, at the front line of Hong Kong's efforts to fight graft, the Independent Commission Against Corruption will investigate its own practices in the wake of the scandal engulfing its former director Timothy Tong Hin-ming. There could not have been a clearer case for an independent inquiry; instead, the ICAC will be tarnished by the suspicion it is looking after its own rather than safeguarding the public interest.

And we still don't know whether another Exco member, Franklin Lam Fan-keung, is guilty of using his position in the council for personal gain.

At least the courts seem to be rising above this malaise, despite constant sniping from the more assiduous Beijing shoe-shiners who demand that their autonomy should be curbed.

They are now dealing with criminal cases involving a former chief secretary and a short-lived development secretary who is facing fraud charges. Another former chief secretary, Henry Tang Ying-yen, has "bravely" allowed his wife to carry the can in court for the construction of an illegal basement (illegal structures at the home of the current chief executive are also out there in the bureaucratic labyrinth). And then there is the seemingly stalled investigation over alleged receipt of advantages by the last chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

The perception that the Hong Kong government is not clean is, to put it mildly, rather widespread. None of these cases has been proven and the accusations would matter less if senior officials showed vigilance in support of the institutions that preserve Hong Kong's good name and cement the special administrative region's reputation as a place where business can be conducted according to the best standards.

However, we are now seeing the undermining of the ICAC, one of the most effective anti-corruption bodies in the world, by an administration that simply does not understand that the perception of fair play is every bit as important as its practice.

Combine this with the cavalier attitude displayed by an administration that seems to want the judiciary to serve as its handmaiden rather than as a bulwark of the rule of law, with officials enthusiastically referring decisions of the most senior court to Beijing for "interpretation".

Things are even more complicated in the legislature, where irresponsible use of the filibuster by a few members has led the council's president to arbitrarily curb the already limited powers of the chamber.

All of this combines to create the impression that the rules are made to suit those in power and that the safeguards that have made Hong Kong strong can be tossed aside. This is not a storm in a teacup; it is a gathering storm with gale-force winds.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

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ianson
And don't forget the significant mainland factor in many of these cases. We must bolster our efforts to keep the corrupt mainland government at arm's length from Hong Kong instead of allowing the Party to creep into all walks of Hong Kong life, ruining what has been built here. It appears the HKMEx scandal will be yet another example of this and that it ultimately affects Exco itself is truly shocking.
And while you praise the courts for independent thinking, without absolute vigilance, they will be the next to fall. Who is watching the secretive JORC? The complexion of the bench is ultimately ruled by this body yet, in effect, merely to open one's mouth about its judicial officer selection process is enough to put one behind bars. This must change or we will wake up one morning to find the courts as just another administrative arm of the Executive.
hard times !
This 'whymak' will do anything to protect his/her/their master in the North for its fame and public image.No wonder pflimo40 has long accused 'whymak' was/ were hired to attack writers here in this Comment for their words against Mainland authorities or even the SAR administration !
caractacus
The system of ministerial appointments under the patronage of the Chief Executive, without concurrent transparency or accountability, has given rise to a class of senior political officials whose arrogant incumbents virtually do what they like. They think the rule of law means the law applies to the ruled, not the rulers.
At about the time of the handover Martin Li warned that Hong Kong would either export the rule of law to China or China would export its corruption to Hong Kong. The latter has happened with frightening speed. The traditional "Guanxi" culture was embraced by Donald Tsang and his cronies, to the detriment of Hong Kong's core principles.
This is what Kemal Bokhary meant on his retirement when he warned of "a storm of unprecedented ferocity" which threatened the judicial autonomy of Hong Kong. He saw it coming. How do you change a 2,000 year old cultural mindset?
hard times !
fully agree with Shirley Yam that the recent scandals took place in the government concerning the Leung administration or the former Tsang's governing team have greatly tarnished the image of Hong Kong as an excellent place to do business while fair play is assured and justice is seen to be done by our independent judiciary of which some shoe-shiners of Beijing (such as that silver-haired old maid ,Elsie Leung Oi -sze) who keep on urging our judiciary to co-operate with the administration in their sentencing of crimes/offences or eagerly referring cases to Beijing for interpretation---a remedy/amendent of our Basic Law indeed ! Bravo ! Shirley, your article has rightly pointed out the serious faults/risks exsiting in our society and can serve as a warning knell for the guys in power here !
RobinDeCaro
WHO'S WATCHING THE MEDIA?
Someone say the judiciary's impartiality will probably be in peril,which is believed to be a foundation of HK's stability.
How about the media who claim their righteousness and supremacy as a monitor of social unjustice,an impartial body to criticize and right the wrongs virtually the whole society;claims to be a super god.
They are drunk with the myth they created,forgeting media run commercially is strictly business.Sex and violence related incidents are their favourites;sometimes blended with hidden agenda and aggression are corroding the core values of a civilized community.One or two columnists of SCMP are typical of their kind.with much resemblences of Chinese tabloid columnists.I am saying these newspapers are in their nature tabloids,indeed have a large base of readers.That really sours the society.
goncalo
HK is going the Mainland way, slowly but steadily.
hard times !
surely the case/scandal of Barry Cheung Chun-yuen has something to do with our financial monitoring body, the Stocks & Futures Authority which has long noticed that Cheung's company:the Hong Kong Merchantile Exchange has suffered from lack of funds for its daily operations due to poor business a few years ago---no wonder Cheung had to borrow HK$8 millions two years ago in urgent need and could not repay in time and the cheque Cheung gave is debtor,Jim Puic-chung was once bounced back ! Such situation could be tolerated by our SFA was really a mystery ! Right ?
 
 
 
 
 

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