Top institute official recalls siege mentality

Liz Gooch

Hong Kong Institute of Education council chairman Thomas Leung Kwok-fai was quoted yesterday as saying a siege mentality existed between the teaching college's president and vice-president, on the one hand, and the former permanent secretary for education and manpower, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun.

Lai Kwok-chan, the institute's head of strategic and academic planning, told the inquiry investigating allegations of government interference that Dr Leung made the comments to six or seven staff council members after a meeting last September.

Under questioning by Benjamin Yu SC, for the inquiry, Dr Lai recalled that Dr Leung said the relationship between president Paul Morris, academic vice-president Bernard Luk Hung-kay and senior Education and Manpower Bureau officials had developed into such a state that 'both sides hated each other'.

'He commented [on] Professor Morris and Professor Luk as having a siege mentality. I recall that word very clearly. He paused for a second, and then he said Mrs Fanny Law was also having this sort of siege mentality,' Dr Lai said. 'He said [education minister] Arthur Li [Kwok-cheung] would be a bit easier to communicate with, but [that] Professor Li liked to fight ... he would fight to the end'.

Professor Morris has told the inquiry that he came under pressure from Professor Li, the former vice-chancellor of Chinese University, to merge the institute with the university. Professor Morris also has testified that he was pressured by Mrs Law to sack four academics, including Dr Lai, who had publicly criticised the government's education reforms.

Dr Lai said he did not recall Dr Leung linking the merger issue with Professor Morris' reappointment during the meeting. However, under questioning by Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, for Professor Morris and Professor Luk, Dr Lai conceded that he would not be surprised if some of his colleagues made that interpretation.

Professor Luk and David Grossman, dean of the institute's faculty of languages, arts and sciences, have told the inquiry that staff council members who attended the meeting told them the chairman linked the merger issue with Professor Morris' reappointment. The council voted not to reappoint Professor Morris on January 25.

Dr Lai testified that Dr Leung said Professor Li had a big sum of money available for upgrading early childhood education. 'He said that Professor Li had waited several days for the institute to come up with some big proposal but ... now he had to distribute the money and the HKIEd was not part of it.'

Dr Lai also told the inquiry that his involvement in a government working group on teacher demand and supply came to an abrupt end late in 2002.

He 'guessed' he was not invited back, he said, because he had criticised the Education and Manpower Bureau in October 2002 for not following former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's policy of requiring teachers to be newly trained - and because of his greater involvement in the small-class teaching issue.

'I was not told whether the work of that working group had stopped. I did not receive any thank-you letter ... I had no idea whether the work had really stopped'.

The inquiry continues today.