Strict controls must apply to Hong Kong leaders
Chief executives should not be placed above the law and they have to be subject to the same anti-corruption measures as public servants
The recent corruption trial of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has not just put the spotlight on the conduct of public officers; it has also renewed concerns over the inadequacies of our bribery law, which has yet to be fully extended to cover the city’s top leader. Two decades have passed but officials are still tiptoeing around a review. It does not square with our commitments to fighting graft.
To his credit, Tsang amended the law in 2008 to make more provisions applicable to the chief executive, including those where he faced two trials that ended in a hung jury. But the proposed extension of two key provisions on the offering and acceptance of advantage remains unresolved. The key recommendations by an independent review in 2012, including the establishment of an approval body for advantages received by the leader, also did not go anywhere.
The government argues that the proposed changes involve complex constitutional and operational issues. Unlike public servants who can seek the chief executive’s approval for acceptance of advantages under Section 3 of the Bribery Ordinance, there is no such avenue for the chief executive within the government. The proposed approval body, comprising members jointly appointed by the chief justice and the president of the legislature, is also inconsistent with the chief executive’s status as head of the special administration region, officials say. Be that as it may, they are not excuses to stall the much needed revamp. Even though the chief executive is currently prohibited from accepting advantages under the common law offence of bribery, and is also bound by some of the strict provisions applicable to public servants following the revamp in 2008, it leaves much to be desired when there are still gaps to fill.
The inadequacies were raised as early as 1998. The chief executives have since pledged to amend the law and subject themselves to tighter scrutiny. Regrettably, the outstanding issues were passed from one administration to another. It is good that Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has not dodged the concerns. The veteran public servant is known for being a proactive troubleshooter. Having made the bribery law revamp part of her election manifesto, she has to honour her promise.
Beijing has repeatedly stressed that the chief executive has a unique constitutional status, but it is important that he or she is not placed above the law. The recent scandals involving top government officials have already dented public confidence and undermined our international image. At stake is the integrity of our world-renowned anti-corruption regime. It makes no sense when the city’s highest office is not subject to the same stringent controls as our public servants. The inadequacies must be tackled expeditiously.