• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 8:02am
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 2:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 4:33am

Body meets the spirit in the case of red-faced Albert Ho

Alice Wu says a legislator's red-faced lapse involving scantily clad models raises interesting questions about penance that befits the crime

What at first appeared to be another triumph of "gotcha" journalism - catching Albert Ho Chun-yan in the act of browsing photos of bikini-clad women in the Legislative Council chamber - has morphed into something richer and more thought-provoking. The Democratic Party's announcement of a fine - its first such "punishment" of a misbehaving member - coincidentally fell on the eve of Lent, which also gave the story an interesting religious touch.

In this case, the court of public opinion has been quick to hand down its "guilty" verdict. But, as with most such verdicts, the "sin" is often not fully examined. Ho is guilty of two things: misconduct, for not performing his official duties, including scrutinising government proposals to the best of his ability; and inappropriate behaviour, given the nature of his actions.

The punishment for the first crime will be decided at the polls. Voters will judge whether Ho's moments of sound judgment outweigh those 10 minutes of distraction, if and when he stands for re-election or again seeks higher office.

The second is more complicated. It was hard to put a finger on why it produced such outrage. After all, we can't exactly accuse Ho of sexually objectifying women; those photos were meant to be displayed. No one other than Ho and his god would know whether he saw them as sexual objects.

But Ho's disciplinarians have only inadvertently reaffirmed the notion of objectification with their penance-almsgiving sentence of a HK$10,000 reparation, to be paid to a "women's group" or other non-governmental organisation of Ho's choice. It gives this whole thing a totally new, bitter aftertaste. No wonder at least one women's group has said that it would refuse the donation if offered.

The party may not have foreseen this reaction. Women's organisations are founded to empower women; naturally, they are not going to have any part in this.

The season of Lent, a period of deep spiritual reflection for Christians of many traditions, looks to be spilling over into the secular world in Hong Kong this year, thanks to Ho. We find ourselves confronting why we feel "unsettled" by the incident, and examining what we see as proper acts of punishment or penance.

How many apologies or pledges of not repeating the mistake would be deemed "enough"? Better yet, what can really be done to "correct" a "wrong"? What does all this say about the role of public opprobrium in raising ethical standards in public behaviour and for those who hold public office?

To what extent and in what circumstances are restitutions appropriate? Would it make a difference if Ho were to donate his time and money to other causes, like internet addiction?

There is a rich dimension for wider discussion that has come out of one man's mishap. It is a precious opportunity for deep reflection, not only for Ho and his party, but also for easily distracted legislators. And it's refreshing that, for once, we have more than political slogans to ponder.

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


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This article is now closed to comments

Injecting lent in a case that involves a person holding a public office in Hong Kong, a city of more truly secular than make-believe religious especially being a Catholic is just too contriving to make your statement to connect. So why not write again on this incident with relevance in SCMP.
Allowing oneself to be distracted during a long boring speech is not a crime. The pictures were not pornography. Flipping photos during the Legco session is no worse than playing computer games, or for that matter, reading the economic classics, or attending to business other than that being discussed. Can we have some sense of proportion instead of being righteous?
Lent allows Bach’s Magnificat but not Handel’s Hallelujah
Why one and not the other may not matter
The point is there’s always more than one perspective
Matthew reports that lust is adultery
John dares laymen to throw the first stone
A man resolution is to be a prodigal son
Take the risk in the race between repentance and Judgment
to enjoy good times in both earth and heaven
My impression of AH is unchanged
a good fellow pre and post tablet
But he may want to be more clinton
a man with public missions must not be seen in wants
get done what a man humanly needs done in good time and place
The Old Man will turn a blind eye and hillary can but compromise
I know Messrs Thoroughgood
but most men are a mix of Dr J and Mr H
I also know a DrJMrH mix
who can satisfy his such a want in a couple of minutes
visiting a clean and nylonless dirty old man website under cover
Better find an excuse and take the tablet outside for a couple of minutes
What utter claptrap, linking this incident to religion, and implicitly solely christian religion. The man was stupid, which is not a sin, but it is most definitely not "a precious opportunity for deep reflection".
Was he 'punished' sufficiently for his travel holiday junket? A fine or repayment would clear the public's memory of his inappropriate action. The photos on this occasion may be blown out of proportion, but I am privately glad that he is seen to be 'punished' for this, if not the other. In future legislators will probably just sleep during meetings. That is probably not punishable.


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