Paul Chan must apologise for farmland fiasco

Alice Wu says scandal-hit development secretary Paul Chan has stoked the flames of controversy and now has to apologise for the damage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 3:51am

You've got to hand it to our Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po - the way he has with words. He is chalking up this whole political brush fire as "clumsiness" on his part. There is little doubt that Chan is anxious to put this whole farmland fiasco behind him.

And that's where he is wrong, again. This fiasco - the latest of many featuring Chan - may be getting painful to watch and even harder to keep track of, but it is nowhere near over. It's not a brush fire, it's a firestorm, and it hasn't burned itself out yet.

And here lies the greatest truth of political firestorms: when you spark a fire, if you don't put it out as soon as possible - by, say, coming clean once and for all - it starts burning down everyone else's house. It began with Chan's, then his wife's. Then it went on to burn his in-laws' while it has all along been burning Leung Chun-ying's and, especially, the government's plans to develop northeast New Territories.

Has Chan even considered, just for a fraction of a second, whether others were willing to burn alongside him?

Mrs Chan's continuous support for Chan is laudable for a life partner. But it is also laughable because if Chan were to have done the right thing - by, say, coming clean - from the get-go, there would have been no need for his wife's multiple statements and clarifications. Wife-blaming really needs to stop: it rarely works as a political strategy.

Essentially, this political brush fire has all but wiped out the administration's new town development project in northeast New Territories. It could have been salvaged if Chan did the honourable thing and detached himself from it the day the news of his farmland dealings broke - say, by coming clean once and for all - but he didn't.

And so Chan has adamantly decided to cling to office, regardless of spreading political wildfire, regardless of the increasing numbers of burn victims. He may feel that he has nothing more to say about the affair, but there is.

Chan needs to begin with three small words that are so simple that even "clumsiness" can't mess up: I am sorry.

He needs to be sorry for what his "clumsiness" has done to his boss, all his colleagues, and the entire civil service. Chan needs to be sorry about propelling the entire government into a trajectory headed right into the path of what Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing has already warned to be the "Tacitus trap". Chan has singlehandedly ruined the government's credibility. How anything can be accomplished from this day forward is going to take extraordinary political will and luck.

And most important, Chan needs to apologise to the public. He has become a household name now - and when we reach for that tube of toothpaste morning and night, we will remember him, his clumsiness, his farmland, and his inability to come clean. Chan and his "supporters" need to stop blaming this fire on people out to get him. If Chan didn't supply the ignition source and the fuel, there would be no chance of mass political combustion.

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