• Sun
  • Dec 28, 2014
  • Updated: 2:54am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong's opaque governance exposes Exco as a joke

Stephen Vines says colonial hangover adds TV licence row to its bungles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 5:27pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 October, 2013, 12:04am

What purpose is served by the Executive Council? This question comes into sharp focus in the wake of the current TV licensing debacle.

Executive councils were an integral part of the British colonial system, established to ensure governors had the local elite on their side and to provide yet more opportunities to reward allies with the trappings of high office. Notably in Hong Kong, the old executive councils also gave the biggest colonial companies a seat at the top table to ensure the preservation of their interests.

Since their establishment, Excos have largely comprised of senior bureaucrats who run government departments. They are rarely prepared to put their careers on the line by upsetting their bosses, so it is safe to assume that, generally speaking, the advice they proffer is what the boss wants to hear.

No wonder this system appealed to Beijing and the old Exco was incorporated into the new constitution. The Basic Law, however, sheds little light on its functions, merely saying that it "shall be an organ for assisting the Chief Executive in policy-making".

There is now intense controversy over whether its members supported, opposed or even seriously considered the new TV licensing regime that has sparked mass protests. One member, Laura Cha Shih May-lung, has a conflict of interest on this matter but the black-box style of governance favoured by the Leung Chun-ying regime will not even reveal whether this was declared.

The only tangible evidence we have of the fruits of Exco’s labours is a series of disasters

Most members of the current Exco, like those of previous councils, are little more than time-servers whose main asset is their loyalty to the chief executive. This situation is not so very different from that which prevailed in the past.

To be fair to Leung, he appointed Lam Woon-kwong as convenor of his Exco. Lam has proved to be independently minded and showed some spirit in leading the Equal Opportunities Commission. It is also possible to make the case for the independence of thought of two other Exco members: Anna Wu Hung-yuk and Bernard Chan. Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a wild card but reserves her independence of mind to focus on personal ambitions.

So, in theory, the current Exco has the potential to provide a better source of advice than its predecessors. The important caveat is that, under the Basic Law, the chief executive is not obliged to accept their advice but members, by convention, are obliged to back whatever policy he pursues.

It is rumoured that there was dissent in Exco over the TV licensing decision. It is equally possible that the government's policy simply went through on the nod.

Whatever the truth, the only tangible evidence we have of the fruits of the current Exco's labours is a series of disasters, ranging from the national education debacle to the more personal issues of dealing with corrupt officials and Leung's own illegal structures.

If it is the case that sensible advice was offered by Exco members and that it has been ignored by the chief executive, why are those who gave this advice still members? However, it may be that Exco members either did not spot the political minefields the chief executive intended to ignite or, if they did, kept silent. If this is so, they are worse than useless.

The system does not work now, and might not do so in the unlikely event that a democratic system is devised for electing the chief executive soon. Bereft of the proper checks and balances combined with genuine accountability that make governments function better, Exco is likely to remain an obstacle to good administration and even more likely to continue being the kind of running farce that it is today.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur

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This article is now closed to comments

321manu
Nothing more than a bunch of court jesters, comprised of yes-men and yes-women. This council and the chief exec are truly deserving of one another. Too bad HKers get screwed over as a result. As for transparency, surely no one believes that a system that Beijing so roundly supports would be long on that characteristic.
whoaman
In an Exco where you have people like Lau Wong Faat, Regina Ip, F-a-n-n-y Law, etc... it only shows the bullheadedness and ignorance of the CE. Does anyone remember when CY's gov't was sworn in, Ms. Law even got a hug from the CE. From that simple gesture, one could tell that CY didn't care about HK people, but only to push his own people and agenda on us all.
caractacus
CY Leung still claims his government is transparent and accountable, but no-one takes this nonsense seriously.
The Colonial Exco was more or less what Stephen says, but questionable behaviour by any of its members usually resulted in removal and the administration was accountable to a democratically elected, transparent UK Parliament.
The present Exco's secrecy and lack of accountability give rise to abuse and a huge potential for corruption. The public perception is that most members are there only to serve their own interests. Why were the Chairman and then Vice Chairman of the Heung Yee **** invited into Exco? Is it a coincidence that since then, Carrie Lam has mysteriously gone silent about the Small House Policy and that its systematic abuse by indigenous villagers has massively increased? The Chief Executive's election pledge to protect the Country Parks is being broken with impunity by Planning Dept. and Town Planning Board who are zoning environmentally sensitive villages for massive development expansion, quite apart from Paul Chan's imbecilic suggestion to destroy Country Parks for housing development. The Heung Yee **** has been very busy behind the scenes. Transparency? B o l l o c k s.
dynamco
www.ceo.gov.hk/exco/eng/membership.html
President + henchmen massively overpaid Yes-Men employees = 16 votes
Non official members = 14 votes
what is the point of having any EXCO meetings when the Govt's choice outcome will always prevail ?
swami.vas
As it is, the Executive Council does not render any special service except for closed door discussions on policies being formulated or decisions taken by the government which more often than not meet with disapproval at legislative council and public levels, as is the case with the present public concern over the Free TV licence issuance! A closer look at the system should give one a clear picture that it is unnecessary as the functions could well be performed with a high degree of transparency by the Legislative Council! So, it would be appropriate for the government to consider scrapping it as a part of the constitutional and political reforms being debated now!
icwu
It is a JOKE indeed. If its set up as an advisory or consultative body, then it should publish regular reports, studies and consultative papers for the public. If its set up like Britain's Upper House, then it should have a proper procedure tranparent to the public. As it is now, it is nothing but a '****' forum for the few chosen at tax-payers' expense. It should be changed or even done away with long time ago.

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