We should never have to hear words such as 'disappointment', 'negligent' or dismay' uttered about Hong Kong's chief executive or other government officials. Yet over the past year, we have heard them time and again, colouring perceptions and lowering expectations. Leung Chun-ying, embroiled in controversy over illegal structures at his home on The Peak, is under fresh scrutiny with the release of a Legislative Council select committee report into whether there was conflict of interest in his role as a judge in a design contest for the West Kowloon arts hub. He comes away unharmed politically, but not unscathed. He will take office on Sunday with much to prove about his honesty and integrity.
A South China Morning post survey carried out in conjunction with the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme makes plain how much work Leung has to do. Seventy per cent of respondents said the revelations about the illegal structures had had a negative impact on their perception of his integrity. Asked if they felt less positive about him being chief executive, 51.8 per cent said yes and 39.3 per cent said no. His explanation of negligence and statement that he is disappointed with himself have clearly not been enough to assuage the concerns of the people he will be governing in just three days.
The select committee used similar language, expressing dismay and disappointment that Leung was a judge in the 2002 contest while serving as chairman of the property services company DTZ, which was associated with one of the entrants. It found he had failed to properly fill out a form on conflict of interest and had not informed his firm of his jury role. But the inquiry determined the pattern of his voting was not unusual, so left the matter of recommendations to the organisers of future competitions. It is a relatively untroubling outcome for an issue that seemed so damaging when lawmakers took it up as a matter of haste in February during campaigning for the chief executive election.
The six unauthorised additions to his home, the manner in which they have been revealed and responses to them are more problematic. While Leung is just the latest in a string of senior officials found to have such structures, his being a surveyor - who should know what is and is not illegal - raises questions about his professionalism as well as his integrity. It makes it harder for him, as chief executive, to ensure that our buildings are safe from fire and storms by having them meet legal requirements. He has said he has been negligent; it is not a sufficient response given public perceptions. Leung has pledged that honesty and integrity will be the hallmarks of his administration. Proving to Hong Kong that he is telling the truth about the illegal structures is crucial for a smooth transition of government. There is every reason for him to keep his word.