The head of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will announce today whether he will stay on as Executive Council convenor - and last night hinted he will not give up the role.
Since being named to the Exco post two weeks ago, Lam Woon-kwong has faced pressure from some quarters to give up one of the jobs on the grounds they create a conflict of interest. But after most members of the EOC gave him their backing at a meeting yesterday, he appeared to lean towards keeping both jobs.
'I have heard the opinions from both sides,' Lam said after the special two-hour meeting. 'Both sides of the argument are important to consider. But if no conflict is likely to arise, perhaps it [keeping both jobs] is worth a try.'
He said sitting on the government's top advisory body would not contradict the Paris Principle, a set of international rules for human-rights organisations under which the EOC operates.
The principle states that representatives of government departments should only join institutions like the EOC in an advisory capacity. But as an advisory body itself, Exco is not considered a government department.
Only two of the 15 EOC members at the meeting objected to Lam's Exco job, according to Susanna Chiu Lai-kuen, convenor of the EOC's administrative and financial committee. No formal vote was taken.
'Most of us think there is no material conflict involving the two positions, especially since Exco is not an executive body. All important decisions of the EOC are decided by all the members, rather than the chairman alone,' Chiu said.
Even if a conflict arose, she said, both bodies had rules for dealing with it. 'Over the past decade, there were only two cases in which the EOC had to contradict the government's policy. We believe the conflict will not be great,' she said.
Earlier in the day, the Executive Council met for the second time since Lam's appointment. A person familiar with the situation said Lam's role was not discussed.
One Exco member, who declined to be named, believed Lam would stay on as convenor.
But lawmaker and EOC member Frederick Fung Kin-kee said Lam should choose between the two jobs or risk undermining the independence of the EOC.
'In reality, the job of an Exco member is to assist the government, but the EOC is supposed to be independent. If he takes up both roles, it is possible that the public will feel that the EOC's credibility has been affected,' Fung said.
Fung said he would resign from the commission in protest if Lam refused to step down from Exco. The Civic Party, Democratic Party and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People's Party have also urged Lam to give up one of his jobs.
But Lam retains the backing of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who says policies are in place to handle any conflict of interest. His fellow Exco members and around a dozen local welfare groups have also urged Lam to stay on.
Lam said last week that if he had to choose between the two posts, he would stay with the EOC. He added that he might resign if agencies with close ties to the commission saw his two roles as conflicting. Exco member Bernard Chan is tipped as a possible replacement for Lam as convenor should he resign.