Six months and counting: Demosisto party still waiting for a reply on its registration

Localist group cannot open a bank account until it gets approval from the Companies Registry, which normally processes applications within days

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 7:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2016, 11:30pm

The Companies Registry is under fire for holding up the application of the youth-led Demosisto political party for almost six months without offering an explanation.

Demosisto deputy secretary general Agnes Chow Ting told the Post that the application to register as a company was submitted in late March but they were still waiting for a reply. The group cannot set up a bank account to raise money until it secures the approval.

Solicitor Daniel Wong Kwok-tung called the delay “unacceptable” and said decisions on even complicated applications would normally be made within a month.

The nascent localist group was founded by newly elected legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung and former student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung.

The registry’s website states that limited companies will normally be incorporated within four working days.

“The Companies Registry cannot just keep the matter in abeyance forever,” Daniel Wong said.

“If it thinks Demosisto is not registrable, tell them! At least they can seek an appeal or appropriate relief under the Companies Ordinance.

“Avoiding giving an answer is the most shameful way of dealing with the matter,” he said, adding that a six-month deliberation was “far beyond” the accepted norm.

Undue caution? Joshua Wong blasts Hong Kong officials over hold-ups in Demosisto party registration and mailings

In late July the registry asked Demosisto to explain if it was adhering to the Basic Law by pushing for Hong Kong’s “self-determination”.

Wong, 19, blasted their inquiries at the time as unreasonable as he believed that political views should not be a factor in registering a company.

Chow said: “So long as Demosisto is not a registered company, we cannot open a company account under the name of Demosisto, which will cause many problems to our administrative and financial management.

“I don’t know why after such a long time the Companies Registry still refuses to give us a reply – either you approve or reject our application. Don’t leave us hanging in the air.”

Chow said she kept urging their lawyers to press the registry into making a decision.

A spokesman for the Companies Registry said they would not comment on individual cases.

Without a bank account to raise funds, Demosisto has to rely on the personal accounts of individual members, which Chow said was not a long-term solution.

Prosecutors seek tougher punishment for youth leaders of Occupy protests Joshua Wong and Nathan Law

However, even if the party succeeds in being registered as a company, it may face another hurdle – opening a company account in the city has become increasingly difficult as banks have adopted harsher vetting process in compliance with international anti-fraud regulations.

In March, Wong’s request to open a joint savings account with Chow to deal with party donations and business was rejected by HSBC.

Hong Kong Monetary Authority deputy chief executive Arthur Yuen Kwok-hang said there was a global trend of banks adopting a tighter vetting process for non-profit organisations, including political parties, seeking to open company accounts.

“I won’t comment on individual cases, but the international banking industry has tightened the vetting process for these organisations, including NGOs, charitable organisations and political parties,” Yuen said.

“The fund-raising nature of these organisations carries the risk of involving money-laundering activities. Banks are concerned about the sources of funds they receive as assessing the risk is difficult.”

However, Daniel Wong said any registered legal entities were entitled to have bank accounts in Hong Kong, branding any unfounded presumptions and harassment from banks “unjustified”.