My Take

PolyU owes all of us an answer after ‘Panama Papers’ reveal some dubious dealings

Hong Kong’s innovation and technology minister Nicholas Yang, who was vice-president of the university, must also come clean about offshore companies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 April, 2016, 12:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2016, 8:36pm

Even before he started, serious questions were raised about the suitability of Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung to be the city’s first innovation and technology minister. Now the so-called Panama Papers have revealed questionable dealings by the Polytechnic University in setting up offshore companies during his tenure as its executive vice-president.

That a publicly funded university should set up offshore firms and then fail to report them should immediately raise alarm bells. Even more suspicious was the timing: the two companies were set up in 2012 and 2013, right after the university endorsed recommendations by an investigative panel to shut down dozens of subsidiaries, associates and joint ventures that had lost the school HK$50.7 million. There were also unexplained transfers of millions of shares involving the offshore firms and a joint venture previously set up by the university.

Hong Kong’s innovation minister and PolyU in new Panama Papers revelations: shares funnelled to pro-Beijing tycoon’s company

Back then, the panel blasted the university for failing to establish a thorough business plan, budget forecast and exit strategy before setting up those subsidiaries. Those commercial entities, ostensibly set up to exploit and transfer scientific research and technology, were headed by senior university staff members. In addition, PolyU never satisfactorily explained how it lost a record HK$900 million in 2009 and why business deals worth HK$1.4 billion had been conducted by companies linked to some members then sitting on the university’s council.

Public relations minders for the school claim the offshore companies were part of an internal strategy “to hold the investments of PolyU in companies that are no longer active in operation”.

It would be hard to come up with worse nonsense even if you tried. For one thing, why couldn’t they set up a local firm to hold all the bad assets and investments?

Hong Kong innovation minister, Polytechnic University embroiled in Panama Papers leaks

Yang has so far refused to comment, saying only the university should respond. As PolyU’s former vice-president and now secretary for innovation and technology, Yang has shown a complete disregard for standards of transparency and accountability.

No matter; what the university or Yang says is less important than the need to bring in independent bodies to probe the whole issue.

It may be that there was nothing untoward other than gross incompetence and stupidity. Either way, the public needs to know.