In wake of charges against Donald Tsang, Hong Kong must strengthen rules of conduct for city's leader
After three years of investigation, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was charged by the anti-corruption watchdog yesterday for misconduct in public office. The trial of the former No 1 in the government is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. It is a case that will have an impact on confidence in the rule of law. That it has not been swept under the carpet is a firm reminder that no one is above the law.
The probe has taken longer than expected, not only because it involves a raft of alleged favouritism and luxurious hospitality provided by some tycoons. That some of the alleged incidents took place outside the city also prolonged the investigation. The Department of Justice brought two charges against Tsang, saying there was insufficient evidence to pursue other issues exposed by the media earlier. Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung yesterday stressed no political consideration was involved.
Tsang is charged with wilful misconduct for failing to declare, or concealing from the Executive Council, his residential lease agreement with Bill Wong Chor-bau, whose company was seeking the council's approval for a digital broadcasting licence. Similarly, Tsang allegedly did not alert officials that an architect he nominated for the city's annual honours and awards was responsible for the interior design of the residence in question, according to the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In a statement yesterday, Tsang said his conscience was clear and expressed confidence that the court would exonerate him.
As Tsang has said before, public officers need to be "whiter than white" in terms of conduct and integrity. Whether Tsang is guilty is now a matter for the court to decide. The public expects nothing short of a fair trial. This is what the rule of law is about. Just as with any other case, the trial of the former head of the government should be handled according to the law.
Separately, the government should speed up the revamp of rules governing the conduct of the chief executive. Tsang's case has exposed inadequacies in the safeguards against the acceptance of advantages by the chief executive, but a package of recommendations made by an independent committee in 2012 is still collecting dust on a shelf. Confidence in the rule of law and anti-bribery safeguards cannot be enhanced until Tsang's case has gone through a fair trial and the relevant laws and guidelines are strengthened.