Accident-prone Paul Chan a liability for Leung Chun-ying's government

Albert Cheng says initial scepticism over traffic incident confirms that the scandal-plagued development secretary has lost public credibility

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 August, 2013, 2:31am

Beleaguered Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, who has lost all credibility after a string of scandals, received treatment at a hospital after being involved in a traffic accident last Sunday. He suffered slight injuries.

When the news broke, the first reaction of most people was that he was trying to use an accident as an excuse to enable him to step down. Of course, that turned out not to be the case. But such a reaction illustrated a fact: whatever Chan says or does, no one will believe him again. People even suspected the reliability of a simple traffic accident.

The warning of a "Tacitus trap" facing the government - sounded by Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing - seems to have come true. The "Tacitus trap" warns leaders in power that when the public resents a government, whatever it does or says will be perceived to be bad or unreliable.

The doubts over Chan's traffic accident also show most people just want him to step down as soon as possible; they don't care what excuses he uses.

That Chan came to be public enemy No1 is his own fault. It's mostly because of his dishonest conduct - he doesn't practise what he preaches. He went all out for personal gain. Then he pretended to be all righteous and someone who was committed to serving the community.

When he was grilled over details of his conflict-of-interest row involving the ownership of farmland in the New Territories, he was reluctant to give out full details. His behaviour did nothing to assuage people's doubts; indeed it has had the opposite effect.

He pretended to be all righteous and someone who was committed to serving the community

We live in a wired world, which means we have all kinds of intelligent devices to capture and track data. So the public will not be fooled by what he says. People can easily compare what he has said in the past to what he says today and decide whether he has been honest.

When Chan was a legislator, he once questioned the integrity of a fellow member when the council was discussing the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express rail link project. He queried the potential conflict of interest arising from Abraham Razack's role as an independent director of the MTR Corporation. He called on fellow members to pay attention to personal conduct and the importance of being whiter than white as a public figure.

But as soon as he was appointed development secretary, he was revealed to have been involved in the speculative sale of subdivided flats.

When caught red-handed, not only did he not admit fault, he tried first to wriggle his way out by arguing that partitioned units are not subdivided flats. How absurd.

He then put the blame on his wife. In the latest land ownership controversy, he also tried to shift the blame onto his wife.

With this latest scandal, we need to find out whether Chan profited because he is in charge of land development.

Even if he didn't benefit, he should have done his best to avoid suspicion. As he previously warned Razack, a public figure must appear whiter than white. Instead of doing that, he only quietly informed the chief executive without taking the necessary precautions.

When Chan's political assistant, Henry Ho Kin-chung, found himself in a much lesser conflict-of-interest land controversy, he immediately resigned and made a public apology. His handling of the case and his attitude were certainly far more acceptable.

At least Ho knew he had done wrong and was willing to own up to his own mistakes and take responsibility. That's why the media didn't go after him and even admired his courage in stepping down.

But in Chan's case, the chief executive still tried to defend him by saying they were two different cases. He said Ho did breach the rules by not declaring his interest, but Chan did declare his interest. It goes to show the government doesn't know the definition of conflict of interest.

People see Chan as an outright hypocrite. When questioned by Legco on the matter, he shamelessly quoted verses from the Bible to defend his integrity. His behaviour was just insulting.

At this stage the government has little choice but to urge Chan to resign. Even if he refuses to go, he should at least be suspended from duty.

If these steps are not taken, the pent-up public anger against Chan will be shifted to the highly unpopular Leung administration. Does it really want to inherit this negative asset? And, worse, it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back, triggering the end of Leung's tenure.

Chan claims he is staying on in order to show his true commitment to serve the community. As a devout Christian - a point he keeps emphasising - does he know the concept of self-sacrifice, which is central to Christianity?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.