Development secretary Paul Chan's Bible reading was insulting

Alice Wu says that for the development minister to quote from the Bible to defend his integrity was insulting and offensive

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 July, 2013, 6:02am

To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God". The quote rolled off the tongue of development minister Paul Chan Mo-po last week as he tried to defend his honour and work at the Legislative Council. Apparently, that same passage - from Micah 6:8 - was printed on his business cards in 2008, Chan said.

I wonder whether this self-proclaimed Christian realises how whipping out Bible verses at a crisis like this serves zero purpose, other than to give fellow Christians and his religion a bad name. Chan may feel righteous in taking scripture passages out of context but the rest of us are not blind to the irony of it all.

The Book of Micah in the Old Testament calls out the dishonesty in the marketplace, deceitful business practices and the corruption of those in power. The most famous passage in Micah might have rolled easily off his tongue, but the meaning and purpose of the author's message seemed to be all but lost on Chan.

He had, on more than one occasion, been criticised by the media for not being forthcoming regarding his property investments. To use that particular biblical passage under these circumstances was insultingly offensive.

Nearly a year ago, he tried to fend off questions about his role in a subdivided flats scandal by pleading ignorance. Now under fire for his farmland investment, he again tried to hide behind "I don't remember, and don't have an idea". Clearly he forgot that, last year, he had had to retract his statement of ignorance just days after making it.

This year's farmland exposé seems to be following the same script.

With Chan not immediately coming clean, reporters have had to dig up details to get at the truth. Four companies were linked to the New Territories farmland he and his family were said to own: Statement Industries, Orient Express Holdings, Fidelity Management and Excellent Assets. And the "relatives" that Chan spoke of were not as distant as he might have wanted the public to believe.

As an Agatha Christie fan, I am struck by a similarity: in Murder on the Orient Express, detective Hercule Poirot found out that all passengers were somehow related to the murder victim on board the Orient Express, so could Chan's family ties in Orient Express Holdings be more than just a coincidence?

A previous drink-driving accusation saw Chan mount a ridiculous defence that he was sure his blood-alcohol level was within limit. Again, that lesson wasn't learned. The public expects public officials to be better than what the laws require.

As the chief executive has said, there is room for improvement in the system of declaration of interests. A functioning system serves the greater purposes of transparency, credibility and accountability. But no matter how we try to improve it, no system will be perfect. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to make sure he or she is not hiding skeletons in the cupboard.

Unfortunately, Chan seems unable to appreciate that, just as he has yet to learn to appreciate the Book of Micah, Agatha Christie and lessons from his previous muck-ups.

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