Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam unlikely to fulfil vow of tightening anti-bribery laws concerning her post, top advisers say
- Cabinet members say move would require jumping through many constitutional hoops and getting Beijing’s blessing
- Critics cite controversy over cases involving past leaders such as Donald Tsang and CY Leung as need for gaps to be closed soon
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor may fall short of a promise in her election manifesto to tighten anti-bribery laws concerning the city’s top post, according to her advisers.
Four members from Lam’s cabinet, the Executive Council, suggested it was either not a priority for the government to revise the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, or that any such change would have to first overcome a constitutional issue that might require Beijing’s blessing.
“There are just many legislative bills piling up, and this amendment is not something urgent – corruption cases against the chief executive do not happen day in and out,” said Ronny Tong Ka-wah. But he acknowledged that a revision of the law is required. “I doubt if Mrs Lam can complete the amendment in her first term of office.”
In her election platform and later during her maiden policy address, Lam vowed to revise Section 3 and Section 8 of the ordinance, which govern the conduct of ministers and civil servants but exempt the chief executive. The proposal has been studied by a team under the city’s No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, but a timetable has not been set to table the bill.
If the proposal is passed into law, it would bar future Hong Kong leaders from receiving or offering any gift or advantage without permission or proper declaration.
Calls to address the issue first emerged in 2012, when then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kue n faced allegations of accepting bribes from a businessman. A special committee chaired by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang later recommended that the law be revised and an independent committee review such cases concerning the city’s leaders.
But two current pro-Beijing Exco members, Ip Kwok-him and Wong Kwok-kin, said the chief executive should only be directly accountable to the central government, instead of being scrutinised by an independent panel.
“Only the central government has the power to supervise the chief executive,” Wong said. “The change of law is not something Hong Kong can decide on its own. The government may have to consult legal experts in the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, [the state’s top legislative body].
“Neither Hong Kong nor Beijing can tell if the rule change can be done before 2022, because it touches on a regulatory framework.”
Citing the 2017 conviction of Donald Tsang for misconduct in public office over an undeclared rental on a property owned by a businessman, another Exco member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the case proved there were already laws in place.
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said the government had been stalling over a proper rule change. Kwok previously tabled a private member’s bill for amending the ordinance, but that is still awaiting scrutiny by a Legislative Council subcommittee.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said authorities practically did little since 2012 and that he was “shocked” by the advisers’ remarks. He questioned why Carrie Lam included the vow in her manifesto at all, if she could not push for the change.
He added that the conviction against Tsang was “already one too many” as it showed the city’s leaders could be involved in bribes, and this proved that legal amendments were needed.
Regina Ip however dismissed the claim by critics that Carrie Lam should be blamed for failing on her promise. “Running in the polls is different from being in office. All she needs to do is to explain to the public why she cannot deliver on this.”
In a response to a Post inquiry, the government’s Administration Wing – under Matthew Cheung – said amendments to the ordinance might have implications on the political structure of Hong Kong and the constitutional status of the chief executive as stipulated under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. This required a “holistic” study of operational issues.
Asked whether the matter would be resolved before 2022, when Lam completes her first term in office, a spokesman said:“We hope to resolve the constitutional and legal issues concerned as early as possible.”
Lam’s predecessor Leung Chun-ying, who was embroiled in controversy over his receipt of HK$50 million from Australian firm UGL during his time in office, previously said he would not oppose the rule change.
Leung was recently cleared by investigators of corruption in the case. The prosecution cited insufficient evidence to secure a conviction, and the Independent Commission Against Corruption concluded the four-year probe was done impartially.
Tong, also a top lawyer by trade, said Leung’s case revealed a loophole which allowed the city’s leader to receive monetary payment while in office.
“No one should receive money during the time of public office,” he said.
Professor Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong’s law school urged Lam to amend the law and close the gap in the system governing the chief executive and civil servants.
“Without such a reform, there is a perception that the chief executive is above the law and not subject to the same anti-corruption standards applicable to all other government servants. It is a challenge that I hope the current leader will take on with some conviction.”