Political parties should take lead and improve transparency on donations
Political donations are a sensitive issue the world over, even more so in a place like Hong Kong where transparency is limited. While individuals are subject to basic election spending rules and declaration of interest requirement, funding for political parties is unregulated. The situation does not resonate with our claim as an evolving democracy.
Recent reports of Jimmy Lai Chee-ying donating to various pro-democracy politicians have put the issues in the public spotlight again. The Apple Daily's founder is said to have dished out HK$5 million to the Democratic Party and HK$3 million to the Civic Party since last year. Two bodies co-founded by a leader of the Occupy Central civil-disobedience movement also received HK$900,000, according to news reports.
Lai is entitled to support the politicians and groups he endorses. It is up to the recipients to judge whether the funding, when disclosed, will be questioned. Although they maintain that all donations are unconditional, that does not dilute the impression that they are susceptible to influence, especially when funding for the pan-democratic camp appears to come from a single donor.
More importantly, declarations should be made as required. There are suggestions that some lawmakers had not done so; nor had they declared interest when speaking and voting in a press freedom motion debate, during which Lai's media group was mentioned. Pressure for a Legco inquiry is mounting. The anti-corruption authority has also been urged to investigate. The members concerned should give a full account in light of the growing public concern.
That Lai is financing pan-democrats is nothing new. Against the backdrop of the looming Occupy Central campaign, the leak has been branded by some as a smear campaign. True or not, it does not alter the fact that party funding remains a black hole that warrants better regulation. Parties from across the political spectrum should take the lead to enhance transparency and accountability of their funding.