Following the revelation that his house on The Peak contains illegal structures, chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying has been trying to evade liability and avoid the truth.
At this moment, the crux of the matter is not whether the structures were illegal, but the fact that Leung has been evasive and not forthcoming with the truth. He is totally bankrupt when it comes to his political credibility.
This credibility is a critical foundation of leadership. Without it, Leung will be unable to command respect and trust. So how can he lead Hong Kong?
According to Ming Pao Daily, it began investigating the story some six months ago, but only managed to get hold of the information to substantiate the claims last week. On June 19, Leung's office called the newspaper about the matter and Leung brought in workers to begin demolishing the structures the next day. The story then came out last Thursday, a day after some structures had been removed. We should give Leung a big round of applause for acting so swiftly at such a critical moment.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal claimed Ming Pao's chief editor Lau Chun-to had hinted to Leung's office that the expose was coming out two days before the story was published. It was reported that Leung himself called Ming Pao last Tuesday.
That would seem to be a blatant attempt to interfere with press freedom, while Lau appears to have compromised the newspaper's editorial independence.
The most important point is that Leung tried to cover up the truth and, by doing so, wrecked his credibility.
He tried to wriggle his way out of the controversy by saying he is only a general surveyor, not a building surveyor, so does not have the professional knowledge needed to assess whether the building works were illegal.
He also tried to excuse himself by saying the illegal works already existed when he bought the property. But, it was subsequently revealed that, in fact, he bought the house directly from the developer.
A report also showed that when Leung signed the purchase agreement in December 1999, he stated he had sought a professional inspection of the house before buying it. If the house was brand new and unoccupied when he bought it, when were the illegal building works installed?
Leung went on to say that, despite the fact the media put illegal building works in the spotlight last year, he was unaware of the illegal structures at his home. He then apologised for the oversight.
But Leung should remember that Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen warned executive councillors and top officials to seek professional inspections of their homes and to remove all illegal works at the time Leung was Executive Council convenor. Again, he has been caught out.
Sadly, many of his diehard followers are still trying to make excuses for him. Some say he was not aware of the problem and because there was no intent to deceive, there is no guilt. Some say it was merely an oversight. All of them seem to suffer from 'the emperor's new clothes' syndrome; they are unwilling to risk looking ignorant or different, preferring to blindly follow the majority opinion.
So, I offer a few words of advice to these people: it is time to walk away if you do not wish to be sacrificed and buried alongside Leung. In fact, it would appear there is more dirt to be dug up on the illegal structures scandal.
The tables have turned. During the chief executive election campaign, Leung attacked the credibility of his main rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen, because he had tried to cover up illegal building works at his Kowloon Tong home.
Leung was not elected by one-man, one-vote so he might think he is not accountable to the public. To him, concealing the truth from the people of Hong Kong may not be a big deal, but how about from the central government? That is certainly political suicide. It is time for him to face the music.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org