In most countries, it is considered perfectly natural for governments to have emergency powers to issue directions to any body exercising an important public function. In Hong Kong, there are already many areas where the same principle applies. For instance, RTHK's transmitters can be taken over and its editorial independence overridden in cases of severe emergency. Similarly, in extreme circumstances, the law allows the Government to give instructions to the normally independent Securities and Futures Commission. But, perhaps due to a legislative oversight, no equivalent provisions apply to the stock and futures exchanges as well as to the local clearing house. In normal circumstances, it would be perfectly reasonable for the Government to close this loophole and bring the position in Hong Kong in line with those in other countries. But times are anything but normal at present. So the administration's decision to choose this moment to seek such reserve powers inevitably looks more like a move to bully these bodies into line as part of the war with speculators than a long overdue correction of an anomaly. That impression can only be reinforced when one of the local exchanges is already at odds with the Government over some of the proposals to tighten regulation of the financial markets. Not that the exchanges should be entitled to have the last word on this. After the revelations of the clearing house's failure to enforce its settlement deadlines, and the fiasco of last week's huge quantity of unsettled trades, it is clear that these bodies sometimes make poor judgment calls. Nonetheless, it is disturbing the administration should announce such measures without listening to the exchange arguments beforehand. Worse still that, if the Chief Executive is granted the reserve powers now being sought, he will simply be able to override their objections. Fortunately, the matter is not solely in the Government's hands. Since such powers require a change in the law, the Legislative Council will be able to scrutinise the extent of the discretion given to Mr Tung. The Democratic Party has already served notice that it would be very wary of granting any wider powers than are absolutely necessary. Once the bill is brought forward, even those legislators more supportive of the Government are likely to act with similar caution. Self-regulation can never be absolute. Recent shortcomings in the operations of the exchanges and Hongkong Clearing have weakened their case for arguing that they can be trusted to run their affairs without any interference. Still, any government engagement must be a rare exception, not the rule. The administration must put forward a compelling case if it wants to be granted the power to act as an overlord. So far, it has not done so.