C.Y. Leung must wield the axe to salvage government's credibility
Albert Cheng says the chief executive must swiftly remove tainted members of his team and stop violent protests if he is to survive
Since Leung Chun-ying became the chief executive a year ago, his administration has been plagued by an endless string of scandals, leading to the plummeting of its credibility, which has now hit rock bottom.
If the scandal-ridden members of his team, such as Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and executive councillor Franklin Lam Fan-keung, do not step down and the Caring Hong Kong Power doesn't cease from its unruly and violent ways, they could well be the last straw that breaks the camel's back, triggering the end of Leung's regime. In other words, either these "three evils" go, or Leung goes.
We have seen the bankruptcy of Chan's credibility. First, he was involved in the speculative sale of subdivided flats - a suspected conflict of interest as development secretary. Then he was embroiled in accusations that he drove under the influence of alcohol.
Most recently, he was hard-selling and pushing for housing development in northeastern New Territories and was subsequently found to have owned agricultural land in the area.
After the scandal was exposed, Chan at first claimed to have forgotten the details of his investment. He said his wife and her family, through an overseas entity - Orient Express Holdings - were minority shareholders of the company that owns a plot of agricultural land in the northeast New Territories.
Chan's wife tried to placate public anger by saying she had sold and transferred her shares to her relatives. She then bore the brunt of the criticism and made a public apology.
At this point, we are not just talking about whether Chan failed to declare his private interest as a top government official. We should also ask whether his wife had benefited at all from privileged information.
Chan took office last August. His wife only pulled out from the land-holding company in October.
It's not Chan's credibility that is at stake now because he has none; it's the survival of the entire administration. If he doesn't resign, the government will certainly pay a hefty political price.
During the Tung Chee-hwa era, financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung had to step down after a car-tax scandal. Under Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's administration, environment secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah had to shelve a scheme to promote energy-saving light bulbs after it was revealed that a relative of Donald Tsang's was the biggest importer of a market-leading brand of such light bulbs.
Leung prides himself on the fact that his governing team tries harder than the previous administration. Now it's time to walk the walk.
Our current administration is certainly not short of scandals. Chan's predecessor, Mak Chai-kwong, was found to have cheated the government in housing allowances shortly after he was appointed. Mak was recently convicted of housing fraud. At that time, Mak immediately resigned after the scandal broke to minimise damage to the government.
In Chan's case, if the chief executive refuses to take action and remove him from office, it would appear he is trying to cover up and protect him.
In Lam's case, he was caught selling two flats just before the government introduced tough measures to curb housing prices, giving the impression that he tried to dodge hefty taxes. As an Exco member, he obviously had insight into all government policies. The scandal led to him being put on indefinite leave and suspended from all Exco duties. His case has dragged on for far too long - it is time for Leung to act.
The government must take decisive action to rebuild its credibility. First, Chan must resign. If he refuses, the government must appoint other officials to take charge of the northeast New Territories housing development.
Second, Leung must cancel Lam's indefinite leave and remove all existing Exco members to form a new inner cabinet to rebuild trust and credibility.
Finally, if Leung really respects public opinion, he would have noticed an increasingly violent force that is countering the Occupy Central movement and the call for political reform. He needs to put a stop to these violent protests.
These so-called "love Hong Kong" groups are nothing but unruly hooligans who are destroying Hong Kong's core values and freedom, as well as law and order. If Leung could clean them up, it would certainly boost his popularity.
Leung is no doubt fighting for his political life. In order to survive, he must remove Chan and Lam and at the same time rebuild his governance team and the inner cabinet. On the outside, he needs to rein in these rowdy and uncontrollable "love Hong Kong" groups.
He doesn't have the luxury of time; he must act before the situation reaches the point of no return.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]