Given the uproar sparked by television licensing, calls on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to review the Executive Council's decision-making process to avoid similar controversies in the future could be sound advice. But when the call comes from one of those behind the controversial decision, speculation abounds. As soon as Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong made the open appeal on Sunday, he was showered with criticism. Government allies were dismayed that the cabinet chief had apparently sided with opponents to deal the chief executive another blow. But he was also commended by a former Exco member for his courage.
This is not the first time the cabinet has been seen as not working as one. Leung himself did not always toe the official line when Exco convenor in the previous administration. Lam did defend the licensing decision when Legco pushed for an investigation into the controversy last week. But just when the saga was wrapping up, he renewed it by turning the spotlight on the process. The veteran public servant may have thought it was time to learn a lesson and move on. But he is reportedly one of the few non-official Exco members who supported issuing three licences instead of two. So when he openly urged Leung to initiate a thorough review of the process, it was interpreted by some as an indirect acknowledgment of the flaws and inadequacies in the system. Not surprisingly, the chief executive wasted no time in reiterating that the decision was in accordance with the law and procedural justice. Lam also clarified that he was not targeting Leung.
The government believed it had followed proper procedure. But, as Lam rightly pointed out, the decision fell short of public expectations. So a close examination of what went wrong is all the more important. But he could have saved Leung embarrassment by discussing the issue in private. The open appeal gives the impression that the rift is deepening.
Constitutionally, the "Chief Executive-in-Council" is the authority for all major decisions and policies. Politically, it translates into unity. For strong and effective governance, the cabinet should be seen to be working as a team. Once a decision is made, members have a duty to promote and defend it under the principle of collective responsibility. The incident underlines the need for better team spirit among political appointees. Government authority will be undermined if the team fails to stay united, especially in times of controversy.