Legislators from both camps need a dollop of political sensitivity

Albert Cheng says lawmakers should not be so dismissive when their catering choices leave them open to accusations of wrongdoing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 7:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 October, 2013, 2:12am

In last week's column, I criticised legislators for lacking political alertness and being politically incorrect. My accusations came in light of news that catering services organised by the Legislative Council's secretariat would include the provision of foie gras, while the Jockey Club would be included as an official caterer.

Foie gras is a product of the inhumane treatment of animals, while there appears to be a conflict of interest in using the services of the Jockey Club.

My comments attracted a strong response from some legislators. Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching will raise the issue for discussion in an upcoming house committee meeting. Secretary general of the Legislative Council Secretariat Kenneth Chen Wei-on, meanwhile, said the food supplier was named as a foie gras specialist, but it did not mean foie gras would be on the catering menu.

Even if that's the case, putting such a restaurant on the list is both misleading and politically incorrect. Using the company's services is equal to endorsing it and the uncivilised dining habit.

The response from the pro-government and pan-democrat camps on the matter of the Jockey Club providing catering services at discounted prices was rather interesting.

Pro-government legislators revealed that they basically lack political sensitivity; they don't think the issue warrants any concern and believe it doesn't involve a potential conflict of interest.

Democratic legislators might disagree with the pro-government camp on most matters, but they all seem to be treating this matter quite lightly. They claim that even with the discount, the price is still quite high and the service is too extravagant, so they wouldn't use the service anyway. And if that's the case, there is no cause for concern.

Emily Lau Wai-hing accused me of making a mountain out of a molehill. Lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said I didn't do my research properly even though I am a voting member of the Jockey Club.

He quoted a reply from Chen during a house committee meeting that there was a budget limit on lunch gatherings and catering services did not involve any discount or special treatment. Wong accused me of "firing my gun without aiming". He is wrong on all counts.

As a members' club, the Jockey Club, like the Hong Kong Club, does not provide catering services to non-members. So why make an exception for Legco?

The real issue here is about public perception. Chen was a senior executive of the Jockey Club before being appointed a principal official under the accountability system. The Jockey Club is a non-profit public institution that is monitored by Legco.

Legislators are public figures and, as such, they have to be seen to be whiter than white.

We would do well to remember two cases involving public figures. One involved a senior police superintendent who was found guilty and jailed after accepting free sexual services. More recently, a police superintendent was jailed for a year after accepting discounts and whisky worth HK$5,500 from a restaurant.

Lawmakers are always quick to criticise the chief executive and principal officials whenever they have, or appear to have, been involved in wrongdoing. But when it comes to their own foibles, they seem to be able to easily brush them aside or sweep them under the carpet. If this is not double standards, then what is it?

It's disappointing to see our lawmakers lacking a sense of duty in this case. Legco members, especially those who are directly elected, have a mandate from the people and must set a good example and follow a code of strict self-discipline.

I plan to take the matter up with the committee on members' interests and will file a formal complaint. We must get to the bottom of the matter.

All public figures and those with privileges and special powers must abide by the law.

Take, for example, this week's announcement of the approval of two more free-to-air TV licences. News that the government would issue the licences was leaked around lunchtime on Tuesday. As a result, the stock prices of the two winning applicants shot up in the afternoon.

It would seem that someone in an official position failed to abide by the rules of confidentiality.

The Securities and Futures Commission and the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing failed to take immediate action by suspending trading of the companies involved in the TV licence bid. As yet, there has been no word from them about whether there was any possible insider trading or even whether there will be an investigation.

The corrupt ways of government are widespread. We must condemn all such practices, and stop them at all costs.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk