Hong Kong pro-government camp ‘losing patience’ with Teresa Cheng over illegal structures furore
Embattled minister facing calls to address legislature over growing controversy, as veteran politician refuses to rule out calling for resignation
Hong Kong’s pro-establishment lawmakers revealed on Tuesday that they were losing patience with the justice minister’s handling of the controversy over illegal alterations to her private properties.
One Beijing-loyalist in the Legislative Council even reported “a general feeling in the camp” that Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s position was untenable.
Their concerns were aired as Hong Kong’s No 2 official, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, urged the public not to link the controversy surrounding Cheng with the government’s overall image.
Lawmakers from across the political spectrum on Monday urged Cheng to address Legco over the furore, after the government confirmed on Sunday night that she had not one but at least two properties with illegal structures.
On Tuesday veteran pro-establishment legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun told government radio that his camp felt discontented with Cheng.
“Other members from the pro-establishment camp have started to feel impatient and discontent,” Tse, who is not affiliated with a party, said. “It seems there aren’t many words that we can say [in defence of Cheng].”
Asked if he would support the idea of asking Cheng to resign, Tse did not answer directly but suggested that could be an option if certain conditions were met.
“I would like to see if she has any more explanations and whether there are factors that we have to consider. At the moment, if I can’t see any of these important factors, of course I am inclined to feel that short-term pain is better than long-term suffering,” Tse said.
Cheng had given the public an impression that she was finding different excuses for her situation, which could undermine the government’s authority, he added.
One in four Hong Kong properties has illegal structures, but most owners get away with their misdeeds
On January 6, the day she took office, Cheng was found to have unauthorised structures at her home in Tuen Mun. The controversy escalated on Sunday as the Department of Justice confirmed she had a property in Southern district which was also found to have three unregistered alterations that were already there when she bought the flat.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun warned that Cheng needed to step down if it was proved that she had commissioned any of the illegal structures herself.
“If Cheng avoids the legislature and refuses to explain herself here, this controversy can’t be resolved. It would do her no good,” he said.
Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan said he noticed that some lawmakers in his camp had “turned critical” of Cheng.
“We welcome her to come and explain any time,” Chung said. “She needs to bear in mind that the situation could worsen if things drag on for too long.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity, another pro-establishment legislator said: “There is a general feeling in the camp that Ms Cheng’s position is untenable, especially in light of further disclosures that her basement is well equipped ... Her integrity is in question.”
The legislator was referring to media reports that the basement of Cheng’s house in Tuen Mun had a band practice room and a storeroom.
Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok noted that since Sunday the two largest pro-establishment parties in Legco – the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Business and Professionals Alliance – had been reluctant to defend Cheng.
“I believe that the biggest problem is that they don’t know how much more information is going to be exposed and how bad the fiasco is going to get ... even [Chief Secretary] Matthew Cheung did not know how to defend his colleague either,” Ma said.
Cheung said on Tuesday: “Ms Cheng has already made it clear that she was not sensitive enough in handling the matter, and that she is certainly doing her best to rectify all the problems, particularly the illegal structures concerned.”
Cheung was speaking in his capacity as acting chief executive with the city’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, away on an official visit to Switzerland.
He also noted that Cheng had apologised repeatedly for the “inconvenience and concern caused in the community”.
Cheng will attend Legco’s weekly meeting on Wednesday to answer accountancy lawmaker Kenneth Leung’s question on criminal prosecutions. It was unclear on Tuesday whether she would take the opportunity to answer questions about her properties.
Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok said his party had asked for a special meeting at Legco for Cheng to come clean. If she kept avoiding addressing lawmakers, the pan-democrats would have to move a motion of no confidence against her, or a motion invoking the legislature’s special power to look into the matter, he said.