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Exco members 'broke confidentiality rule' in wake of TV licence decision

Ex-minister criticises the way executive councillors handled the fallout from HKTV decision, saying some broke confidentiality rule

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 5:07am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 November, 2013, 11:14am
 

A former commerce minister is critical of the way the Executive Council handled the aftermath of its decision to award free-to-air TV licences, saying some councillors did not toe the government's line.

Frederick Ma Si-hang, who resigned from the administration in 2008 for health reasons, was scornful of some executive councillors who didn't support the government's decision and even distanced themselves from the Administration.

"I'm somewhat disappointed with the Executive Council's performance, because members have violated the Exco's confidentiality rule," Ma, whose commerce brief covered broadcasting, said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

He said the government must be more aware of public opinion in future policymaking. Its decision to award licences to two companies, but not Ricky Wong Wai-kay's Hong Kong Television Network, sparked days of angry protests by tens of thousands.

Ma said he disagreed with the move by some lawmakers to invoke special Legislative Council powers that would compel Exco to reveal the details behind its decision.

"Once the floodgates opened on the matter, the government would be subjected to judicial reviews of other decisions, such as appeals against immigration decisions and land grants. The government couldn't function effectively [under these circumstances]," Ma said.

Ma criticised "some executive councillors" for breaching Exco's collective responsibility rule by failing to adhere to the government's line-to-take. He did not specify names nor the number of executive councillors.

"Some Exco members hope to score points among voters while keeping their seats in the Exco," he said. "They wanted to have the their cake and eat it, too … so they were passing the ball back to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying," he said. "It sounded very unfair to Mr Leung."

He urged Leung's cabinet, and especially Exco's non-official councillors, to take heed of public opinion in the future, especially when handling sensitive policy decisions.

While Ma did not single out any specific Exco member in his criticism, the comments made by some in recent weeks have raised eyebrows.

Last month, Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong said that when deciding to reject HKTV's application for a free-to-air licence, non-official members acted as advisers and that the final decision was made after the chief executive had consulted them.

Beijing-friendly lawmaker and executive councillor Starry Lee Wai-king also called on the government to explain the reasons behind its decision after tens of thousands of people criticised the outcome in rallies outside government headquarters.

Lam and Lee's remarks raised the possibility that non-official members were trying to distance themselves from the chief executive, but on Sunday Lam dismissed such speculation.

Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the government might have underestimated the dissenting voices within Exco.

That in turn prompted dissent among members and the government failed to keep a lid on that disagreement.

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