Stronger vetting system needed for Hong Kong officials
As the cases involving the justice minister and telecoms authority chief have shown, those in key posts can ill afford not to follow the highest standards of conduct
The head of the Communications Authority has let the public down by failing to disclose his shares in a mobile phone company as required. Describing it as sheer negligence, Huen Wong was adamant that it had not caused any conflict of interest or compromised the work of the telecoms regulator. Be that as it may, the case shows that declaration rules are still not followed as seriously as they should be.
Wong is not the first appointee to have flouted the rules. While senior appointments are vetted on their integrity, the declaration of interests is primarily an honest system. If those in key posts do not take compliance seriously, public interest will be undermined.
If there is any positive outcome from the saga, it would be the decision of Wong to disclose his actions and step down. Barring any further unforeseeable developments, the affair has turned into a welcome act of accountability that is still sorely lacking among Hong Kong officialdom.
The resignation of Wong is a refreshing change from the tradition of disgraced officials hanging onto their jobs, the latest being the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, who is still struggling to rectify many illegal alterations at her residential properties.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was not wrong in saying that the illegal-structure scandal involving Cheng and the non-disclosure of shares by Wong were not entirely the same. But the public would inevitably draw a comparison.
After weeks of tussling, the pressure on Cheng to quit may be waning, but it does not mean her job will become any easier.
Unlike Wong who broke the news and resigned on his own accord, the justice minister has been evasive and missed a golden opportunity to defuse the row at an early stage. Even if she has seemingly settled into her job, she still carries with her heavy political baggage. Her work will be subject to close public scrutiny. Unlike in the West, resignation as an act of accountability is still the exception rather than the norm here. But the spirit is the same.
Officials are expected to follow the highest standards of conduct. They should steer clear of problems that may bring the government into disrepute. The vetting system also needs to be strengthened to avoid further mishaps.