Let there be no mistake, the Hong Kong chief executive is above the rest of us.
He cannot be charged under the anti-bribery law, which aims to maintain a fair and just society.
But many of our legislators believe that the city’s top official should not be excluded from the coverage of the ordinance.
Rafael Hui, once the city’s No. 2 official, was put behind bars because of this law, while former chief executive Donald Tsang was only charged with misconduct in public office for allegedly accepting an advantage from tycoons.
That’s patently unfair, according to the pan-democrats.
Even Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying once held the same belief. During the election campaign in 2012, he promised to amend the law to extend its coverage to the chief executive.
But after he was sworn into office, he seems to have forgotten his campaign pledge.
On Wednesday the Legislative Council voted down a motion to amend the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance to cover the chief executive.
The motion was put forward by the Democratic Party’s Helena Wong in the wake of charges filed against Donald Tsang, who is facing two counts of misconduct in public office for allegedly failing to declare interests when he was chief executive.
The motion was shot down after it failed to get enough support from the functional constituencies under the legislature’s split voting system.
Of the 61 lawmakers who cast their ballots, 30 voted in favor of the motion, 10 said no, while 21 abstained.
So if it were not for the split voting system, the motion would have passed under a simple majority rule.
It’s worth noting that aside from the democrats, the Liberal Party also supported the motion.
The pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong only had one vote opposing the motion, while 10 party members abstained from voting.
The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, another pro-establishment group, also abstained.
Speaking prior to the vote, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam urged lawmakers to consider the matter carefully. She said amending the ordinance would involve constitutional and legal issues.
Her remarks touch on the “one country, two systems” principle that guides Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China after the handover.
While the chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member electoral committee, it is the central government that appoints the chief executive.
In effect, the chief executive is answerable to the central government, not to the Hong Kong people, not even to his supporters in the electoral committee.
So the root of the issue is that Hong Kong people have no power to implement a tighter monitor on the actions of the chief executive in office. Only the central government, which appoints him, could do so.
Some political analysts noted that it would be inappropriate for Hong Kong to have a law that could challenge the power of the central government. That would trigger a constitutional risk.
However, under the “one country, two systems” principle, it is also impossible for the chief executive to be covered by Chinese laws, or to put him under the coverage of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
Leung has been accused of accepting an interest for taking a secret HK$50 million payment from Australian engineering firm UGL. That, however, is not covered by the anti-bribery law.
Sadly, the government views the debate on the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance as a political attack on the chief executive by the opposition camp prior to the district council elections on Nov. 22.
“I believe our citizens are smart enough to see through everything,” Carrie Lam said during a Legco hearing.
Once again, the government has put political considerations ahead of justice and fairness.
But still, it’s an important legal issue that Beijing and Hong Kong must face.
The chief executive should perform his duties in a transparent way and must be “whiter than white” to avoid any suspicion of misconduct.
An appropriate law is needed to achieve that goal.
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