Hong Kong has entered an era where the truth hides behind appearances, where it remains unspoken amid a cacophony of voices and explanations.
One very disturbing example is this week’s rejection of the proposed appointment of former law dean Johannes Chan as pro vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.
Almost all of the members of the university’s governing council who voted against his appointment cited various reasons for their decision, but those reasons were nothing more than excuses meant to cover what is plain to everyone by now — that Chan was rejected because Beijing doesn’t like a pro-democracy scholar to be placed in a highly influential position in the city’s most prestigious educational institution.
Fortunately, there are some people who are brave enough to speak the truth.
In the HKU saga, Billy Fung, chairman of the university’s student union and a member of the HKU governing council, played the important role of exposing the charade that went on during the deliberation of Chan’s nomination.
The reasons cited by the council members were ridiculous because they had nothing to do with office at stake: Chan has no doctoral degree, he didn’t show sympathy to Dr. Lo Chung-mo when students stormed a previous council meeting, and so on and so forth.
It’s clear that the council’s decision was based on political consideration rather than their professional judgement.
Having been exposed for their silly and childish behavior during the council deliberation, the council members now appear to be trying to deflect public criticism by shifting the blame to Fung.
They did not say why Chan’s nomination was rejected, saying that under a confidentiality agreement, council members were not allowed to divulge the details of the meeting; otherwise, they could face censure and punishment from the council chairman.
That’s why council chairman Leong Che-hung arranged a meeting to discuss Fung’s violation of the confidentiality rules.
Leong, which will be stepping down as chairman, said the rules are there to allow members to speak freely while protecting their privacy.
He stressed, however, that it is hard to say at this point whether Fung will be penalized or even expelled from the governing body.
But what Leong and the other council members seem to have conveniently overlooked is that the issue of Chan’s appointment has long been thrown into the public domain because of their very action of delaying action on the nomination.
It was, in fact, the pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po that broke the story about Chan being the only candidate for the post in November last year.
The newspaper’s “scoop” indicated that the newspaper had its own “deep throat” who provided the information about Chan’s nomination.
If Leong insists on punishing Fung for disclosing information that only the HKU council are allowed to know, then he should also exert effort to find out the insider(s) who supplied Wen Wei Po the information about Chan.
Otherwise, why punish Fung but let the Wen Wei Po source go scot-free?
Besides, the HKU saga has gone beyond the confines of the campus and has entered the realm of a public issue for it now pertains to allegations that Beijing, through the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, is trying to impinge on academic freedom.
As such, the university council’s deliberations on Chan’s nomination have to be brought out in the open to douse suspicions that Beijing is attempting to tamper with the independence of our universities.
In fact, Fung’s disclosure of what went on during the HKU council meeting can been seen as a public service as the council itself has not helped in quelling rumors that it sacrificing academic freedom to be in good graces with the powers that be in Beijing.
It is clear that Beijing doesn’t want Chan to be the university’s pro vice chancellor based on the series of attacks launched against him by Wen Wei Po and other pro-Beijing publications.
Fung has chosen to serve the public interest, never mind if it involved breaking the council’s confidentiality arrangement.
He knows how childish some of his co-members in the council were behaving and so he felt it his duty to let the public know the truth and judge for themselves.
Some council members may accuse him of being dishonest for divulging the council deliberations, but he is in fact being honest to himself and to the people by telling the truth of what transpired in the meeting.
He knows he has to bear responsibility for his action, but he also knows that public interest overrides any council rules on confidentiality.
Politics is now playing an increasing role in all aspects of Hong Kong life, and Beijing loyalists are using “confidentiality rules” and “collective decision” as excuses to escape responsibility for their action on Chan’s appointment.
Hong Kong people still remember in the 2011 debate among chief executive candidates, Henry Tang broke the confidentiality of the Executive Council by disclosing that CY Leung proposed the use of riot police to suppress a peaceful demonstration, as well as suggested to that the license of Commercial Radio be extended for only three years, instead of the normal practice of granting 12 years, to punish the station for its outspoken editorial direction.
If Tang abided by the confidentiality rule, Hong Kong people would not know how Leung damaged the core value of Hong Kong, which is to exercise maximum tolerance in the face of peaceful protests and guarantee the freedom of the press.
Today, Billy Fung has chosen to walk on the path of truth and justice. He deserves our respect and admiration.
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