Home affairs secretary was doing his duty, there’s no conflict of interest

Lau Kong-wah hasn’t done anything wrong in his role in a grant for the army cadets programme: the government needed to show it was doing something about national education

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 November, 2016, 12:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 November, 2016, 12:58am

Poor Lau Kong-wah. The Secretary for Home Affairs has been accused of a conflict of interest in helping to secure land and a grant of HK$30 million for the controversial Hong Kong Army Cadets Association.

The allegation is based on the fact that Lau is chair of the board of management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries, a statutory body that provided the multimillion dollar funding while his bureau enabled the association to turn a disused school in Kowloon Bay into its headquarters last year.

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His accusers are asking the wrong questions. Lau gained nothing from the venture; he was just doing his patriotic duty. The speedy establishment of a nationalistic uniformed club for children goes beyond Lau. It was clearly a priority for the Leung Chun-ying government and the People Liberation Army honchos stationed in Hong Kong. The cadets’ commander-in-chief is Regina Leung Tong Ching-yee, Leung’s wife. The chief executive himself is an honorary patron, as are the PLA’s Hong Kong garrison head Major General Tan Benhong and Liaison Office director Zhang Xiaoming. Former Youth Commission chairman Bunny Chan Chung-bun is the chairman. Ex-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is the group’s honorary president while his wife, Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping, is an honorary adviser. With such a stellar list of VIPs, it would be surprising if the association didn’t get special treatment and quick funding. Lau was just the functionary doing what he was told. The real issue is that since former president Hu Jintao put pressure on Leung’s predecessor Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to do more on national education, the Hong Kong government has had little to show for it. In fact, things have got worse. The debacle over the national and moral education curriculum was Leung’s first political crisis when he came to power.

Pro-establishment figures have long complained that Chinese history is not a mandatory secondary school subject while liberal studies with their emphasis on current affairs have fanned the flames of localist radicalism among young people. Both criticisms were respectively repeated this week by former education secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung and Open University president Wong Yuk-shan.

Given the failures to introduce nationalist education, the Army Cadets Association was a quick fix. Its launch may have followed what Lau called “due process”, but the appearance of propriety was secondary to demonstrating to the central government its urgency and priority.