Only a thorough investigation can clear the air over Betty Fung’s property-swap deal

At stake is the integrity of Hong Kong’s civil service but so far it is the media who seem to be doing more digging than the government

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 April, 2016, 11:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 April, 2016, 1:00pm

The public reacts strongly whenever the conduct of top civil servants is called into question. The accusations against Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee and her husband of gaining unfair advantage in a property transaction is an example. Much information has since been disclosed by the media, but the authorities do not seem to be investigating with the sense of urgency required.

Fung was accused of paying below-market price in a property-swapping deal with Cheyenne Chan, whose ties with Wilson Fung Wing-yip have aroused intense public attention. Betty Fung swiftly denied any wrongdoing, saying she did not know the identity of the company involved.

The swap is allowed under the existing law. But Betty Fung’s husband was a former top official in charge of aviation, including the helicopter service run by Chan’s Sky Shuttle. Even though the transaction in question came years after he had left the government, there is a perception of “deferred benefit” – in which officials are subsequently rewarded for giving businesses advantages while in office. As the media unearthed more details on Wilson Fung’s relations with Chan, he broke his silence. He said he had never told his wife about any of the “dealings” between him and Chan.

The focus might have been somewhat diverted to the couple’s relationship for the time being. But the fundamental questions remain. Has any company been given undue advantage ? Has the couple gained any benefits? And if so, does that constitute conflict of interest or deferred benefit? These questions can only be answered by formal investigations. The Independent Commission Against Corruption is reportedly looking into the case. The Civil Service Bureau is expected to do the same. At stake is the civil service’s integrity.

The incident has already undermined public perception and confidence in the civil service. The authorities should investigate thoroughly and give a clear account as soon as possible.