Justice chief Teresa Cheng doesn’t think she owes Hong Kong any explanation about the CY Leung case. She’s clueless

  • Alice Wu says the justice minister previously said the public should focus on her department’s work, not her illegal structures scandal. Now, ironically, after the saga of the CY Leung case, she’d rather they didn’t scrutinise her work too closely
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 7:04am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 9:23am

We stand on the cusp of a new year, but it doesn’t look like Hong Kong is ready to let bygones be bygones, thanks to the city’s Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah.

It is unfathomable why a top official should be away on a break and remain eerily silent on the legal principles behind her department’s decision to drop the highly publicised corruption investigation into former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, without following the previous practice of seeking an independent legal opinion. The case involved Australian engineering firm UGL’s payment of HK$50 million (US$6.38 million) to Leung.

However, it is clear that Cheng has no clue why her silence sparked such a public outcry. To make matters worse for the government, Cheng returned from her holiday in a bitter mood, and her attempt to explain not only came much too late, it came out all wrong.

It’s anyone’s guess why she even bothered to meet the media. She didn’t offer an explanation – most people would not call her tirade anything of the sort. It explained nothing – Cheng spent most of her time emphasising that she has no further comment. And yet, it explained a lot, although not on the matter of huge public interest, but on how arrogant and ignorant Cheng is.

It is ludicrous for a top official to basically say she does not care about public concerns or about allaying doubt and suspicion over preferential treatment. It is a dereliction of duty for the justice chief to display such contempt for the public and so little understanding of the need to be open and willing to provide the public with an explanation, in order to protect public confidence in due process and the rule of law. And, it is incredible that Cheng still can’t grasp what holding public office means.

For a marathon investigation lasting four years, a simple “insufficient evidence to support a reasonable prospect of conviction” is simply not enough – not enough for the investigator and not enough for the general public. It’s not enough for the government’s friends, let alone foes. In fact, it wasn’t enough for her boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

It’s also the time of the year to be reflective – so it seems apt that we look back, starting with when Cheng became secretary of justice. She assumed the role at the beginning of the year amid a controversy over illegal structures at her residence. Later, more illegal structures were found at her other properties, but it took Cheng days before she broke her silence and apologised.

Teresa Cheng must clear the air on CY Leung decision

And, much as she has tried to deflect the CY Leung issue by accusing people of politicising a legal matter, she attempted something similar in January: she said she hoped people would turn their attention to her department’s work and issues facing Hong Kong instead of focusing on her home. Well, the people listened and focused on her department’s work, only to be told to stop doing so. Go figure.

Many felt she did not provide sufficient explanations about her illegal structures, and many feel the same about the Leung case. Unfortunately, Cheng did not offer any apologies this time. Instead, she rolled her eyes in front of rolling cameras for all of Hong Kong to see, revealing her impatience and disgust. Again, it’s anyone’s guess why Cheng should, as a public servant, feel impatient with the public, when it’s the public that has lost patience with her.

Hong Kong’s young lawyers have a duty to uphold the rule of law

The credibility and impartiality of her department are still on the line. She was a political liability when she failed to take care of her illegal structures before entering government. People questioned her ability to handle public duties because of the way she mishandled her private matters. So, what are we to make of her today? She still lacks political sensibility, and remains blind to how public sentiment and perception can make governance even more difficult. And, on top of her apparent inability to learn on the job, she has thrown a bad attitude into the mix.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA