• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 9:49pm
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 April, 2014, 5:33am

One law for us, and another for the favoured few

Philip Bowring says it can only be to Hong Kong's great detriment that, from political fundraising to fisheries protection, the rule of law appears to have been applied selectively


Philip Bowring has been based in Asia for 39 years writing on regional financial and political issues. He has been a columnist for the South China Morning Post since the mid-1990s and for the International Herald Tribune from 1992 to 2011. He also contributes regularly to the Wall Street Journal, www.asiasentinel.com, a website of which he is a founder, and elsewhere. Prior to 1992 he was with the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, latterly as editor.

The rule of law in Hong Kong is being eroded, little by little. Seemingly small episodes become cumulative as executive fiat takes precedence over law. That undermines trust and strengthens the belief that the system is rigged to benefit those already at the top.

Let us start with the Basic Law, which we are told to read and obey. There is reasonable argument over interpretation of its electoral provisions. But there can be no doubt that the head of the liaison office's fundraising for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is contrary to the Basic Law's promise of a "high degree of autonomy" for Hong Kong's executive, legislative and judicial bodies.

The offence was compounded by the presence of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, whose smiling public persona hides a track record of appeasing vested interests. The money-raising was hugely successful despite revelations of DAB legislator Elizabeth Quat's dubious doctorate and MBA degrees. How typical.

Now, we have the likely return to Hong Kong of Ma Sik-chun, the brother of the late "White Powder Ma", who jumped bail and fled to Taiwan in 1978. One may feel sorry for Ma's physical condition, but why should the government assist his return by saying that, while the arrest warrant stood, it would offer no evidence against him? He has lived in great comfort in Taiwan rather than having to face drug-related charges that may have led to a very long jail term in Hong Kong. What is the quid pro quo for treating Ma more kindly than he deserves?

That may be a one-off case but the government turns a blind eye on a daily basis to enforcing laws against the rich and powerful. The lawlessness of the New Territories in matters relating to land and buildings has long been notorious, thanks to the unwillingness of the saintly Lam and her ilk to face up to the thugs, and indeed the system that enables laws to be flouted brazenly and continuously.

This feebleness of government is seen in its whole policy on New Territories land, which is at the root of the building land shortages from which Hong Kong supposedly suffers. That problem is, of course, an old one - though it appears to have become worse after Heung Yee Kuk boss Lau Wong-fat was invited by then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to sit on the Executive Council, giving the feudal kuk a direct influence over policy and the non-enforcement of laws.

A newer problem is the non-enforcement of parking and other traffic regulations to please an elite of limousine owners and their chauffeurs who wish to avoid the inconvenience of walking to car parks. Which particular senior official has given instructions to the police to turn a blind eye to those who consistently flout parking regulations and cause great inconvenience to the travelling public? This is a particular problem in Central but Wan Chai and elsewhere also appear to have parking "untouchables".

Presumably, as chief secretary, Lam could order that the law be enforced. So why doesn't she? This is not just a matter of traffic flow. Law falls into general disrepute if it is seen to be so unfairly enforced. Or are our leaders simply learning from the mainland, where there is so often one law for Communist Party members and one for their subjects?

In Hong Kong's case, there already seems to be one law for bureaucrats and one for the rest. Let us remember the Lamma ferry disaster. It was followed by a very detailed report on the causes which placed blame for the heavy loss of life partly on the vessels' crews and partly on the Marine Department's failures. Since then, we have seen charges against crew members but apparently no one at the Marine Department is expected to take legal responsibility.

On another marine matter, how curious it is that public money was paid to fishing boat owners in an effort to reduce the number of such boats and so help protect local fisheries. But now, we learn that there has been an increase in registered vessels, many of the additions being more modern than their predecessors. Surely, there is a prima facie case here for reference to the excellent but undermanned office of the Director of Audit.

On the prosecutions front, it will be interesting to see whether the authorities really tackle money laundering or confine themselves to getting long jail sentences for minor cogs - widows paid paltry sums to act as intermediaries. The Hong Kong banking system is engaged daily in laundering mainland money which it has reason to believe were ill-gotten gains, assisting breaches of foreign exchange regulations and the manipulation of trade invoicing to move capital into or out of China.

But we all already know how much the favoured few in the financial sector gain at our expense. Reminders are many, including an increase in Mandatory Provident Fund contributions in June that will bring instant profits to the clique of firms allowed to charge ridiculous fees, and the so-called Hong Kong-Shanghai "through train", whose many restrictions exclude most retail trades. So much for free and fair markets, and the public interest, as self-serving executive fiats take over from common-law principles.

Philip Bowring is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator


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This article is now closed to comments

Don't forget Henry's basement. Or Donald's free travel perks.
I think we still have just one set of law which is to protect the privileged since the colonial days. Its sole purpose was to segregate the rulers and its compatriots from the locals. What we have today is just an extension of it to the locals who belong to the privileged group regardless of race. Indeed rule of law in Hong Kong is selective and not universal.
While some shamelessly holding up Rule of Law as a core value to Hong Kong, their daily law breaking in impunity is just a smack on the face on all Hong Kongers. Hong Kong must stop lying to themselves and the rest of the world.
check out the 6 meter deep excavation for the oaf's two storey house
the basement was there from the outset + covered up for the friendly BD inspection
the oaf should be charged with suborning perjury
the contacts with the architects later was probably for tarting it up
Many such illegal basements exist in HKG's hoi polloi households
check out Fei Ngo Shan Rd houses for a start
as for :'Heung Yee **** boss Lau Wong-fat was invited by then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to sit on the Executive Council'
Lau Wong Fat was defeated in a fair election in a Tuen Mun District Council vote by lawyer Junius Ho - Bowtie then reinstated Lau Wong Fat !
Meanwhile they are now buying NT deng Uks for 500k paid to UK + Amsterdam chip shop owners' sons, building village houses for 900k to 1.2m with the deng Uk & offering for sale at HKD 11 or 12m, all above board being snapped up by black money from China as well as massive jewellery purchases held in local jewellers' vaults, Macau VIP room laundries, etc HKG is now the cream of the world money laundry locations with hi paid Govt morons taking the pay & doing nothing to offend the rich n mighty
As with 'Dr' Quat - their time will come, in between the odd Cathay junket or other shocking abuse revelation
he omits the fact that lawmakers are supposed to reveal their assets whereas political parties do not have to reveal their funding sources ie the head puppeteers who drive their policy through $$$ donations or even worse, a **** for tat agreement with Govt
Their policy to ignore what is beneficial for HK people & place the requirements of the puppeteers ahead of the people
This has become so obvious just by recent voting decisions against tobacco tax increase that would stop youth smoking & the fact that the former head of the Panel on Environment Affairs Gary Chan who shot down the incinerator plans previously now votes for them together with the DAB en masse
DAB voters should vote with their feet as they did with the Liberals previously
As for 'Dr' Quat she should be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation
Did she become a District councilor & Legco member & JP able to sign a form committing someone to a mental institution based on false degree mill pieces of paper bought from a Hilo Hawaii bungalow - has she obtained credit from finance houses based on her fake qualifications that remain unaccredited - is that also Misconduct in Public Office ?
speaking of which three others from the past administration come immediately to light for those charges also ...
Well written and said. Number One on Crony capitalism, Heung Yee Crook Lau Wong Fat, Henry Tang, Donald Tsang, LKS, etc... All a bunch of crooks who have been around a lot longer than just since 1997. This 'rule of man' problem has been around for awhile. The real problem is trying to correct it and seeing how entrenched it is. Especially the archaic NT land policy and LKS's collusion with certain parties in the government.
A timely article setting out our current situation. The atmosphere in HK is quite depressing, more so than in 1997!
The long eroded list of law breaking by PB sounds so much like playing Mahler’s 5th Symphony – a lengthy wailing of what is lost. Mahler lost his runaway wife and Hong Kong seems to PB it has lost its most precious value that law is no longer followed equally by everyone but circumstantially faulting for the connected. Rule of law in Hong Kong is being eroded, little by little as PB set the course for his column.
I was educated by my neighborhood grocer when I first returned to Hong Kong shortly before the handover after a 30-year stay in US. He said, ‘Hong Kong is governed by collusion between official and the privileged. And you can’t win any argument against officials because officials have two mouths – a reference to the word official in Chinese character.’ My grocer lost his store after a rent hike when the area went through a complete gentrification.
John Adams
Mr Bowring : This is very timely article, also very frightening.
I agree with the previous commentators , especially Johnyuan..
By comparison with the real issues which you raise : Tang's underground wine palace and Donald's Macau frivolities seem like mere trifles.
Seems the Rule of Man is indeed replacing the Rule of Law . Very, very sad.
The scariest take I get from the above is the now blatant and incessant meddling by the CCP in HK affairs. HK people should be very scared and have the right to take action against this.
Even those that are so called "pro" Beijing and "patriotic" should be afraid...after all, it's nice now to say you love the PRC and its government and mock the likes of Occupy and Long Hair, but how will you feel when you won't even be allowed to stand up freely to proclaim that anymore?!
no change ....in the old days it as white vs non-white. now its rich vs poor.
its time for the poor to move out to another country. actually hk is not a country....eg no one will stay behind to defend hk if it is attacked. so since it really doesnt matter if it erodes anyway.


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