Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has compared his cabinet - the Executive Council - to a jury as he again defended the controversial decision to deny Hong Kong Television Network's application for a free-to-air TV licence.
Leung faced questions yesterday from 124 residents who attended RTHK's forum programme Voices from the Hall.
The government has cited Exco's confidentiality rule and refused to explain its decision to grant free-TV licences to subsidiaries of i-Cable and PCCW, but not HKTV.
Asked whether the government would have the same response if pushed to explain any other decision, such as reviving a contentious policy such as introducing national-security legislation, Leung replied: "When [the Executive Council] publicises policy decisions, we cannot publicise our rationale, especially in decisions on commercial [matters]. It's like a jury … after a jury retires for deliberation, they tell the judge what their decision is but they don't tell the judge or the court the rationale behind it.
"As long as the system and the laws are like that, and as long as they are not changed, the Executive Council will work that way."
Speaking separately, lawmaker and former Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he was shocked by Leung's comparison.
"A jury mainly deals with the evidence in court, and it is the judge's job to reach a verdict based on legal [principles]. So Leung's analogy is not only irrelevant, but also shows his ignorance of the judicial system."
Tong added that in court, a judge was required to give detailed explanations of rulings - something he said Leung had failed to do after the licensing decision was made.
Those at the forum yesterday were invited to attend by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme as community representatives.
Leung was asked to consider handing out cash in his next policy speech in January, after casino-rich Macau recently announced a record handout of 9,000 patacas for each of its 570,000 permanent residents.
But Leung dismissed the idea, saying: "If the government has the finances, I think our cash should go to the needy, including low-income families and disabled people, and to encourage Hong Kong's social and economic development."
During the forum, the chief executive - whose disapproval rating has risen to 63 per cent - was also asked to step down.
Leung replied that while he valued public opinion, "polls also show that some lawmakers don't have high popularity ratings - but I wouldn't ask them to quit".
Outside RTHK, protesters scuffled with police when Scholarism activists - including Joshua Wong Chi-fung - tried unsuccessfully to hand a petition to Leung. It called for voters to be given the right to nominate chief executive candidates in 2017.