Recipient of Hong Kong prize for young people faces backlash over ties with award’s chief judge

Eyebrows raised when she posted photos of her celebrating her birthday with chief judge, who said he had declared his links with her and did not rate her during the selection process

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 8:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 3:40pm

A controversial recipient of this year’s Ten Outstanding Young Persons Selection awards has been found to be on friendly terms with the selection’s chief judge – friendly enough to have celebrated her birthday with the judge.

But both the chief judge, former Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk, and the selection organiser said that Wu had declared their links and abstained from commenting on or giving his rating when it came to assessing awardee Fonia Wong Yeung-fong.

Facebook photos posted on August 2 by the 40-year-old Wong, a senior managing director at property development giant Sun Hung Kai’s financial investment arm, showed that she celebrated her birthday with Wu and three others in a restaurant.

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“Thanks to the kung fu family [the three people in the photo] and fat Wu for celebrating my birthday with me tonight even though the typhoon signal No 8 is up,” Wong wrote on her Facebook post.

Many eyebrows were also raised when Wong boasted about earning about HK$30,000 a month from working part-time as a multi-level marketing agent during her time in university, and after graduation, working from 9am to 11pm to earn money, and later, purchasing a 900 square foot flat in Tseung Kwan O in 2004 for HK$3 million, with her mortgage paid off in only two years.

I don’t usually spend time chit-chatting with colleagues at cha chaan tengs
award recipient Fonia Wong Yeung-fon

Wong said she rarely had time to socialise with colleagues because she was too busy working.

“I don’t usually spend time chit-chatting with colleagues at cha chaan tengs (local diners),” Wong said after the award ceremony on Sunday.

On Monday, however, in an interview with Ming Pao, Wong said her comments had been misconstrued. She clarified she needed to earn money to provide for her family at the time and that it was neither her dream nor her sole purpose in life to earn money.

Wong grew up in a squatter settlement in the New Territories after her family emigrated from Chaozhou. In her acceptance speech on Sunday she recalled how most of her childhood was spent helping her mum do sewing work to make ends meet.

Many internet users questioned her money-oriented attitude and wondered what message the selection organiser was trying to convey.

The media also found out later that Wong actually bought the flat in 2003 for HK$2.3 million. Its value is now estimated to be around HK$8 million.

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Paul Yip Siu-fai, a professor of social work at the University of Hong Kong, said the focus of local media reports and online conversations was misplaced.

“She wouldn’t have won the award just based on her ability to earn money, otherwise there would be a lot of outstanding awardees in Hong Kong,” Yip said.

“Let’s not be highjacked by social media. Indeed there are a lot of young Hongkongers who use money as a yardstick to measure success, but let’s not forget that there are others who place importance on universal values,” he said.

Wong was awarded for her achievements in the finance industry and her efforts in establishing several organisations for youths to do charity work in Hong Kong and abroad.

Many of Wong’s Facebook photos showed she had rubbed shoulders with several important figures on various social occasions, such as with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man and former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa. She was also nominated for the Ten Outstanding Young Persons Selection by executive councillor Bernard Chan.

In a statement Monday, Wu said that he knew Wong through the Federation of Hong Kong Chiu Chow Community Organisations and had established a work-related connection with her.

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He said that he had declared this relationship to the judging panel and did not comment on or give any scores to Wong during the whole selection process.

Selection organiser Junior Chamber International Hong Kong issued a similar statement. The chamber said the awardees were selected via a “rigorous system” and face-to-face interviews by six renowned public figures under the consultancy of Deloitte, one of the “Big Four” professional services networks.

The five other judges include former HSBC Hong Kong chief executive Anita Fung Yuen-mei, tax consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers’ senior adviser Tim Lui Tim-leung, Hongkong Land chief executive Phillip Pang Yiu-kai, Sands China president and chief operating officer Wilfred Wong Ying-wai and Open University president Wong Yuk-shan.

This year’s selection has been filled with controversies, with a total of only five candidates chosen despite the selection’s name. The organiser has denied speculation that there were few people to pick from, emphasising only on the strictness of the selection system.

The other four awardees include architect Tony Ip Chung-man, Hong Kong’s bowling world champion Wu Siu-hong, blind theatre art director Comma Chan Hin-wang and scientist Edward Choi Man-lik, who went to west Africa to join the fight against Ebola.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng