Teresa Cheng

Too devoted to public service to forget private business? Carrie Lam says it’s possible in defence of Teresa Cheng

Embattled justice secretary Teresa Cheng is expected to escape the latest attempt by pan-democrat lawmakers to grill her about unauthorised structures found on her properties

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 3:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 10:57pm

Hong Kong’s leader once again defended her embattled justice minister who claimed she was swamped with work and overlooked illegal structures on her properties, saying on Wednesday that from her personal experience, it was possible to be “too neglectful, too busy and too devoted to public service to forget [one’s] own private business”.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said: “Some may find it unbelievable but I do share that. Sometimes I am also so busy at work and have no time to handle my private issues.”

Lam was at a question-and-answer session at the Legislative Council, where opposition pan-democrat members are expected to table a third motion on Thursday to summon Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah.

They want to grill her further on the illegal extensions and demand documents related to the ongoing furore.

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Cheng was expected to escape the summons, as the major pro-establishment parties said they were not likely to support the motion. Cheng on Monday survived two no-confidence motions with the help of pro-establishment lawmakers who voted against the motions, 10-7.

At Legco on Wednesday, People Power’s Raymond Chan Chi-chuen asked if Lam genuinely believed that Cheng, an internationally known arbitration expert as well as a chartered civil engineer, was only aware of unauthorised structures at her properties after Buildings Department inspectors said so.

Lam did not answer the question directly but stressed that she had great trust in Cheng.

“The Secretary of Justice is one of my most important working partners, and also my legal adviser,” Lam replied. “If I had such doubts as suggested by you, I surely would not recommend her to be appointed as Secretary for Justice.”

“In short, of course I trust Secretary Teresa Cheng.”

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But Chan persisted, referring to Cheng’s mortgage deed for one of her properties, which did not mention the existence of a basement and had led critics to suggest she “lied” to the bank. Did Lam agree that Cheng had made a false statement, Chan asked.

Saying she had no experience in buying local property, Lam said she had no idea how to answer the question. She now lives in government housing although her husband has a flat in Zhongshan city in Guangdong province.

She only said that based on her own experience, she found Cheng’s points about being too busy believable.

Lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun of the pro-government Business and Professionals Alliance, which has seven seats in Legco, said she would oppose a move to summon Cheng. Lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which holds 12 seats, echoed Leung’s stance.

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“Cheng may have failed to answer some questions … but ministers come to Legco all the time and lawmakers can ask them questions they want [then],” Leung said.

Since Cheng took office on January 6, the former barrister has been on the defensive. The Buildings Department found 10 illegal structures at her HK$26 million (US$3.3 million) home in Tuen Mun, and subsequently, 10 more were identified at her flat in Repulse Bay and two units in Sha Tin.