Sir Donald Tsang’s conviction and imprisonment for misconduct in public office marks a new low point in Hong Kong’s steadily decomposing civil society. That the rule of law remains intact, and that this venal man should finally be held accountable for his serial misdeeds, is the only positive side to this drawn-out, shabby saga.
But why should anyone have reasonably expected better? Hong Kong is part of China, where top-level corruption is ubiquitous. Tsang’s cosy relationships with tycoons, the luxurious meals, cadged lifts on yachts, private jets and so on are old news; some five years ago, in this column, I lambasted the then chief executive, in uncompromising terms, shortly after he snivelled and grovelled before the Legislative Council when his grasping, shameless ways first became widely known.
Aside from disgracing his official position, Tsang’s pious insincerity should revolt any decent person. Affectedly parading his churchgoing Catholic persona, Tsang ostentatiously planned his official schedule around well-publicised attendances at daily Mass; presumably, as he muttered the responses and fingered his rosary, the hypocrite also schemed towards his next peculation. Clearly the Jesuit fathers at Wah Yan College, which Tsang attended, insufficiently catechised him, for so little basic sense of right and wrong to have developed.
If Tsang really was as devout as his well-orchestrated public persona projected – and not the whited sepulchre that overwhelming evidence would suggest – he would have internalised the timeless message of the Tenth Commandment – “Thou shalt not covet”. And another powerful lesson from Proverbs 1:10 should have reminded him that “If sinful men entice you, do not give in to them.” Anyway, it’s too late now, and the painful warning from The Book of Numbers 32:23 – “Thy sins shall seek thee out” – has been learned the hard way.
In the minds of many Catholics – and other Christians – public adherence to their creed somehow qualifies them for special pleading when eventually caught out in wrongdoing. Various mitigation letters offered to the court made this belief abundantly clear. But surely, as a “devout Catholic”, as well as Hong Kong’s former top official, even higher standards must prevail for Tsang, rather than have further excuses made for him. All-but “elected” future chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – also an ardent co-religionist – even described her former boss as her “role model”; let’s sincerely hope this is not the case!
That someone so well compensated throughout his career should stoop so low for so little is particularly sad; clearly Tsang was – in Cantonese parlance – a “cheap species”. Privilege was no longer a by-product of responsibility, but an open invitation to plunder. Or perhaps he thought that the rules simply didn’t apply to him any more? Privilege – originally – meant “private law”, and it is reassuring to see that equality before the common law has finally humbled him.
Reasonable inference would suggest that Tsang’s conviction has further exposed the arrogant, carelessly displayed tip of Hong Kong’s much larger and more serious corruption/collusion iceberg. His tycoon enablers, their bagmen (and women) and certain curiously coincidental decisions made when he was chief secretary and chief executive, which materially benefitted certain local plutocrats, as well as the wider “House of Tsang”, could do with far closer examination than they have hitherto received.