Disturbing questions remain after trial of Donald Tsang
While the case against the former chief executive shows that no one is above the law, it also highlights the urgent need to review the existing mechanism for declaration of interest and acceptance of advantage
There can be no dispute that the controversies surrounding Donald Tsang Yam-kuen rocked public confidence in clean government. The question was whether the city’s former chief executive had violated any law, and if so, whether he would be brought to justice like anyone else.
After a long-running investigation and legal proceedings, Tsang was last night found guilty of one count of misconduct in public office, but was cleared on another charge of misconduct. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the charge of accepting an advantage as chief executive.
As the holder of Hong Kong’s highest public office, Tsang has let down the public for failing to conduct himself with the highest standards. The conviction is as much a lesson for Tsang as a reminder to all public servants of the need to be, in his words, “whiter than white”.
The 72-year-old is the most senior official to be tried and convicted in Hong Kong courts. This follows the conviction of former government No 2 Rafael Hui Si-yan for corruption and misconduct in 2014. Inevitably, public perception of government’s integrity has been undermined. But if there is any silver lining to the clouds, it is the affirmation of the rule of law. The way the two most senior officials have been handled shows that no one is above the law.
Tsang’s trial has raised some disturbing questions. The court heard that the Independent Commission Against Corruption had not sought evidence from a key person on the grounds that he might not cooperate with investigators. The approach apparently does not square with the principle of treating everyone as equal before the law.
There is also an urgent need to review the existing mechanism for declaration of interest and acceptance of advantage. The bribery law has yet to be fully extended to cover the city leader, despite commitments by all chief executives to subject themselves to tighter scrutiny.
This is not helped when the rules on declaration of interest and acceptance of advantage for the top leader are still inadequate. Public confidence will not be fully restored unless institutional safeguards have been strengthened.
The city has long moved beyond the times when illicit dealings and misconduct can be hushed up without consequences. The growing public expectation on government’s integrity and accountability means officials have to conduct themselves with the highest standards.