We can’t afford a government riven with mistrust and disunity

The fiasco over answering questions from lawmakers under challenge has seriously damaged credibility and the public perception of the leadership

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 12:51am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 December, 2016, 12:51am

With so much turbulence looming on the political horizon, unity and cooperation have never been more important for the government. Yet the Leung team has demonstrated exactly the opposite when handling issues as simple as whether officials should field questions from lawmakers whose status is being challenged in court.

Did CY pull a fast one on potential CE rival Tsang?

It remains unclear whether the different stances adopted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah are due to a lack of communication or a power struggle. But the outcome does nothing for the government’s image and authority.

The issues regarding the four lawmakers seem easy enough to handle. After all, the government has already gone through the battle to disqualify two pro-independence lawmakers. The chief secretary has also twice written to the Legislative Council explaining the government’s position on answering questions from the members in question. One would therefore assume that there must be a clear line for all officials attending Legco meetings. Regrettably, this is not the case.

Questions and answers: what Hong Kong’s Leung Chun-ying and John Tsang told the press

That senior officials do not speak with one voice on such matters of principle is already bad enough. The issue is further coloured when those involved are seen as potential rivals in the coming chief executive race. Citing legal advice and the chief secretary’s letters, Tsang told a Monday Legco panel that it was the government stance not to answer questions from the four members. But this was soon dismissed by the chief executive, who said the finance chief had gone too far in shunning their questions. Leung and Tsang had shown signs of discord as early as September when they responded to the controversy surrounding a housing development in Yuen Long.

The latest controversy has inevitably fuelled more speculation as the jockeying for the top job heats up. Without more details, the public is unable to judge whether the questions issue was a case of miscommunication or political wrangling. But the perception of unity and cooperation in senior government echelons has already been undermined. As pro-Beijing lawmakers rightly warned, snubbing the members in question would only fuel more political tension. At stake is not just the relationship between the executive branch and the legislature. It is imperative for the Leung government to serve out its remaining term as a team. The last thing the public wants to see is an administration fraught with mistrust and disunity.