25 October 2016
Regina Ip is shown in a huddle with Michael Tien, deputy chairman of her New People's Party. Ip relishes the prestige of Exco membership while claiming to be an independent voice not beholden to the government. Photo: HKEJ
Regina Ip is shown in a huddle with Michael Tien, deputy chairman of her New People's Party. Ip relishes the prestige of Exco membership while claiming to be an independent voice not beholden to the government. Photo: HKEJ

Regina’s dangerous power grab

It is hardly news to reveal that Regina Ip is one of Hong Kong’s most power-hungry politicians but her lust for office has gone too far and inadvertently exposed the ludicrous dysfunctionality of the current political system.

In the midst of the recent pro-government legislator’s power grab for control of the Legislative Council’s committees, the significance of Ip’s selection as chairwoman of the Establishment Sub-Committee has been somewhat overlooked.

This committee has hardly hogged the headlines, yet it is supposed to play a pivotal role in scrutinizing the executive’s policies in regard to the structure and functioning of the civil service.

The problem is that Ip also sits on the Executive Council and by convention Exco members have not chaired Legco committees for the simple reason that it would give rise to the impression that the executive was using committees under its control to monitor itself.

Ip, who insists that she is a staunch supporter of established rules and procedures, nevertheless likes to have it both ways.

On the one hand, she relishes the prestige of Exco membership, while on the other claims to be an independent voice not beholden to support government policy.

This is ludicrous but the fact that this nonsense persists is a reflection of the increasing dysfunctionality of the local political system.

The entirely non-elected Exco is an amalgam of bureaucrats and hand-picked “independents” who are supposed to both advise on and promote government policy.

In the past, this council was reasonably powerful and, to some extent, subjected the Chief Executive and his colonial predecessors to having to justify decisions; on occasion, it even managed to achieve policy changes.

Under Leung Chun-ying Exco has been transformed into a largely passive body, whose main job is to nod through whatever the CE puts on the table.

Legco President Jasper Tsang Yuk-sing has forcefully pointed out this diminution in status.

A system without checks and balances becomes increasingly inept and detached from the people it is supposed to serve.

It might therefore be thought that the system was quite dysfunctional enough without its leader having to add to its problems.

However, CY Leung seems increasingly determined to shut out even the mildest voices of criticism and is now busy explaining why he has to be above the law.

As far as tolerating criticism is concerned, Leung’s appointment of Ip to Exco was supposed to demonstrate that he was prepared to have someone on his council with a vaguely critical faculty.

That role should have been performed by Anna Wu, a former member of the democratic camp.

However, despite her best intentions, she has responded to her isolated position by maintaining a policy of public silence.

Ip is far more ambitious than Wu and tries to walk the fine line that straddles being a government lackey and an independent voice.

The net result is that her ambition always gets the better of her.

She shuts up when an independent voice is needed, she shouts loudest when the bosses in Western indicate that they would like to see a bit of shouting and when an institutional convention of separation of powers becomes inconvenient, she simply ignores it.

There are two other legislators who also serve on Exco; both of them seem sublimely unaware of the problems of being in the body that is supposed to monitor the work of the executive.

One of them is Starry Lee, the none too bright but quite likable leader of the DAB, who has traveled rapidly up the fast lane of promotion, leaving barely a trace of tangible achievement.

The other is Jeffrey Lam, who these days is careful not to mention that he is a member of the Order of the British Empire for he has taken a longer journey from being a British lackey to that of pro-Beijing sycophant.

CY Leung simply uses his Executive Council as a rubber stamp and regards any questioning of its actions as obstruction and therefore pays no attention until, as in the case of the lead poisoning scandal, he simply cannot ignore the clamour.

At this point, those who bring problems to public attention and demand rectification are accused of “politicizing” the issue.

A genuinely elected government, held to account by a fully elected legislature, would be the key to solving these problems of dysfunctionality but in the Hong Kong of 2015, such a notion is regarded as reckless talk, even though it seems to work pretty well in the rest of the world.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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