Exco members' poor exit strategy

Alice Wu says the public should ask why disgraced Exco members would risk the reputation of their office by hanging on to their posts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 2:32am

My college professor used to say, "My best advice in life is this: quit while you're ahead". It's great advice for people in every walk of life. But some of our politicians seem to live by a different adage, that of rapper MC Hammer: too legit to quit. Take Barry Cheung Chun-yuen and Franklin Lam Fan-keung, both being investigated for wrongdoing. Cheung finally resigned from his position as an executive councillor a week ago while Lam is on indefinite leave from Exco.

Who knows if they felt that they were, in fact, too good to quit, but one look at Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong and they should realise that quitting is not always a bad thing, especially when failing to quit, or doing so at the right time, can have dire consequences. Lam was smart enough to leave his post as director of the Chief Executive's Office in 2005 due to a personal issue. He did the honourable thing and shielded the Tung Chee-hwa administration from the pain of having to answer publicly about his private life.

But for some of today's politicians, such magnanimity seems all but lost; they don't even seem to realise that quitting is often the only option. As a result, they leave behind political messes for others to mop up, which often have far-reaching ramifications, and cause much collateral damage.

Being associated with scandal-hit politicians is forcing this already politically black-and-blue administration to take further blows. These Exco members, instead of doing the job they are supposed to, and contributing to solving this city's problems, instead seem not to care one bit that their own mess is implicating others while they shield themselves in the comfort of their luxury homes.

No one can possibly appreciate that "there are no permanent enemies, and no permanent friends" in politics more than Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying right now. And it begs the question: where does Leung find his friends, anyway? As if "Dream Bear" Lew Mon-hung and his claims of broken promises weren't enough of a problem for Leung, we have to now add to the list his former campaign chairman.

And Cheung's troubles have raised many important questions, including the role and meaning of Exco.

A former Exco member of both the Tung and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen administrations, Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, now president of the Legislative Council, started an important debate.

Tsang has called for a review of the function and composition of Exco, theoretically the centre of political power here. His call for reform is an opportune time to also look at the possibility of abuse, given the power entrusted to these government advisers.

The role of that council has evolved over the years, and the failure of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange has raised important questions about whether leniencies or exceptions are made when it comes to the holders of Exco office. It may be that Cheung didn't once feel that he was too legit to quit; we should consider the possibility that an Exco seat may be too good to give up.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA