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Hong Kong justice secretary’s home controversy prompts review of integrity checks

Chief secretary vows to determine whether system is adequate after questionable structures were discovered at home of new minister

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 January, 2018, 7:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 9:45am

Hong Kong’s No 2 official said the government would review the effectiveness of the integrity check system after the city’s new justice minister was plunged into controversy on her first day in office for allegedly illegal structures at her home.

The pledge made by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung came amid mounting criticism against Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah. Some have questioned whether the system could play its gatekeeping role in ensuring that officials do not bring the government into disrepute.

Cheung on Sunday called on the public to offer Cheng – who had already admitted she had not been vigilant enough – more time and room to settle the issue.

“The Buildings Department will follow up the matter as soon as possible,” he said. “The chief executive would also remind all principal officials once again to inspect whether there are any illegal structures in their properties.”

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Asked whether loopholes existed in the integrity check system, Cheung pledged to review it.

The saga erupted on Saturday after additional structures suspected of being illegal were identified by local media in both Cheng and her husband’s homes in Tuen Mun. The structures include a basement, a rooftop glass house and a garden pool.

Cheng apologised and claimed the structures in question were already there when she bought the property.

On Sunday, Cheng did not elaborate further as reporters gathered outside her home in Tuen Mun.

Executive Council member and lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee weighed in on Sunday.

The former security chief expressed shock that this type of incident had happened again, even though the problem of illegal structures at public officials’ residences had troubled the city for some time.

“I hope the integrity check conducted by the government could be more comprehensive,” Ip said.

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“[Cheng], for sure, has not been sensitive enough, but it is also the responsibility of multiple parties.”

Another Executive Council member, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, said the incident had only displayed Cheng’s lack of vigilance and had nothing to do with her integrity.

“I hope the incident can be a lesson that will prompt Cheng to work harder in her term to defend the rule of law and make up for her faults,” he said.

A specialist in arbitration, Cheng assumed her role as the city’s justice chief on Saturday following the resignation of Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung.