Hong Kong's politicians must raise their game

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2014, 2:58am

This has not been a good week for our lawmakers and political advisers. Behind closed doors in Beijing, a central government liaison official cautioned the city's delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference about poor attendance at meetings and conspicuous consumption that mocks President Xi Jinping's campaign against official extravagance and waste.

The lecture was apparently prompted by embarrassment over attendance levels at briefings in Guangdong, and the delegates' reputation for spending more time networking at the dinner table than in the conference hall.

On the same day, in Hong Kong, the Democratic Party fined former chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan HK$10,000 for "misbehaviour" - flicking through computer pictures of scantily clad women in the Legislative Council chamber while Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah delivered his two-hour budget speech. Commentators cited the tedium of the occasion in light-hearted mitigation for the diversion, but Ho rightly apologised for a "silly mistake".

Curiously, Ho also expressed the hope that all his Legco colleagues would do their jobs properly, especially during Legco sessions, when they should focus their attention on the business at hand. That is a thinly veiled reference to the more serious problem of patchy attendance and limited attention spans for the business at hand, not to mention the antics of mavericks who throw objects and interrupt meetings.

He has a point, even if his indiscretion does nothing for his own credibility. Lawmakers are paid well to do their job. Any commercial organisation would fire them for non-attendance, dozing off or inappropriate distraction. They do, after all, hold officials to account. If a government official had been seen looking at bikini pictures during a Legco session, Ho would have been entitled to make an issue of it.

To maintain credibility and public respect, lawmakers need to be seen to live by the standards to which they hold others.