Teresa Cheng was naive, but what’s Carrie Lam’s excuse?

The chief executive was once in charge of ensuring officials did not have illegal structures at their homes, yet in appointing the city’s new justice chief the vetting process appears to have been lax

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 12:55am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 12:39pm

Hong Kong is one big illegal structure. If your flat doesn’t have a few unauthorised constructions, your neighbours’ probably do. The prevalence of such structures is a by-product of the premium the city puts on liveable spaces.

So I am not surprised that new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and her engineer husband have at least nine illegal structures at the two luxury houses they own in Tuen Mun. What is surprising is the ineptitude with which Cheng and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have handled the whole fiasco.

Justice chief ‘not compromised’ despite 10 illegal structures, Lam says

Some people have blamed the anti-government media for timing the start of Cheng’s tenure to the day to publish the story, and the opposition for milking it for all it’s worth to discredit Cheng and the Lam administration. But that’s how the game is played in this town. The whole public relations disaster was wholly avoidable.

Once the story broke, Lam blamed Cheng’s inexperience in politics. But Lam herself can’t use the same excuse. When Lam was development secretary, she was the go-to person to comment on the latest government probe into illegal structures, including a huge unauthorised basement at the Kowloon Tong mansion of Henry Tang Ying-yen, whose candidacy for the chief executive job in 2012 was doomed by the exposé.

When Tang’s rival, Leung Chun-ying, won the top job, he too was quickly exposed for having a few unauthorised structures at his luxury home on The Peak.

Teresa Cheng isn’t the first - other big names caught out over illegal structures

All bureau secretaries and department directors were subsequently ordered to check their own properties to make sure they didn’t have such structures or if they did, to remove them. Lam lived through, and was closely involved in, those major episodes. Has she not learned a lesson?

Cheng’s was a major appointment, especially since her predecessor, Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, had been involved in practically every major government controversy in recent years – from the government’s failed electoral reform and the jailing of Occupy student leaders to the joint checkpoint arrangement at the high-speed rail terminus in West Kowloon.

Housing minister ‘unaware’ of illegal structures at home of justice chief’s husband

Lam and her closest aides should have made sure the new appointment went ahead without any hiccup. Time and again, what can be more obvious for potential trouble than the presence of illegal structures?

Lam has so far sidestepped major political landmines; let’s hope this latest fiasco is not a sign of things to come.