My Take

Two common sense changes Hong Kong's leader must make to help restore public trust

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 1:14am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 2015, 8:38am

Hong Kong is facing a crisis of governance. But there are two things that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying can do to improve not only his plummeting popularity but restore public trust in his office. End the special exemption from anti-bribery laws that the chief executive, and before him, the colonial governor, has enjoyed. And, overhaul the eight statutes governing our eight publicly funded universities that automatically make him their nominal head as chancellor.

Since the government's electoral reforms ended in failure, those are two areas that Leung can and should reform in the public interest. Both privileges are inherited from the Brits. If the Hong Kong government and Beijing despise British colonialism so much, they should try to eliminate the last vestiges of colonial privileges, especially those two areas that have been damaging to governance and official transparency.

The long-standing public debate about ending the bribery exemption for the chief executive has been resurrected because of charges being laid against former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen for alleged misconduct in public office. The furore over political interference into the failed appointment of a legal scholar to a top personnel post at the University of Hong Kong has raised questions about undue influence the chief executive may exercise over public universities.

At the moment, he may pick up to half the members in the governing councils of the universities. There is a very good argument that the government needs to be represented in the councils as all eight institutions rely mostly on public subsidies. But this need not make him the chancellor with more than nominal powers.

The government is either the sole or majority shareholder in the MTR, the Airport Authority and Disneyland; the relevant government bureaus are represented on their boards. In the universities' case, the University Grants Committee and Education Bureau may represent the government in their councils.

Meanwhile, it should not be too difficult to cover the chief executive under bribery laws such as those against accepting gifts and advantages. Indeed, common sense demands it.