19 April 2019
The Donald Tsang (center) case underlines the need for new legislation to deal with corruption allegations against the chief executive. Photo: Bloomberg
The Donald Tsang (center) case underlines the need for new legislation to deal with corruption allegations against the chief executive. Photo: Bloomberg

Lessons from the policemen, Donald Tsang verdicts

The trials of the seven police officers involved in the Ken Tsang assault incident and the criminal proceedings against former chief executive Donald Tsang for misconduct in office were undoubtedly the most high-profile and nail-biting court cases that Hong Kong has witnessed in recent years.

While we should learn the lesson from the two mammoth cases that exposed serious problems with our governance, we must also think carefully about how we can preserve and reinforce certain core values of Hong Kong that were demonstrated in these two historic court cases.

As far as the case involving the seven policemen, who were convicted and jailed for beating up pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang during a 2014 Occupy event, is concerned, I believe people of my age will be able to remember the dark days of Hong Kong between the 50s and the 70s, when our police force was so corrupt and brutal that cops were often referred to by average citizens as “thugs who carry a badge”.

During that period, most people became numb and indifferent to reports of police excesses because they happened all the time. For many police officers in those days, beating the living daylights out of a suspect inside the interrogation room was just a typical day at work.

However, today our police has come a long way, and has transformed drastically from a Gestapo-like force, that used to be equally frightening to both criminals and ordinary citizens, into a highly professional and respected law enforcement agency, thanks to the untiring efforts and perseverance of generations of frontline officers as well as their commanders.

Coming to the Ken Tsang assault incident, the case has no doubt caused a dent in the reputation of the police force. That said, it hasn’t fundamentally changed the fact that our law enforcement agency remains the pride of the city and is trusted by most of the citizens.

Let’s not forget the important fact that prosecution of the seven cops and their conviction would never have been possible without the professionalism, impartiality and zero-tolerance of misconduct from the police force, which had eagerly and fully cooperated with the Department of Justice in collecting evidence in order to press charges against them.

As such, the professionalism, impartiality, and integrity of the police is undoubtedly among the core values that everyone in this city should defend at all costs.

Another set of core values demonstrated in the “7 cops” case is the freedom of the press in Hong Kong and the commitment of our highly professional journalists to uncovering the truth.

As a matter of fact, the key and probably the most decisive piece of evidence that led to the conviction of the seven police officers was a video clip shot by TVB news crew on the night when the assault on Ken Tsang took place in 2014.

Were it not for the TV footage, the misdeed of the policemen would probably have gone unnoticed.

Judge David Dufton, who announced jail terms for the errant cops, has praised the TVB news crew for shooting the video clip which he believed accurately reflected the truth.

That came even as the big bosses in TVB had appeared anything but impressed about the work of their staff.

Media reports have said earlier that the chief assignment editor at the TVB newsdesk who had written the script for that piece of news was removed from his duties and reassigned to another department afterwards.

Also, 14 out of the 28 TVB news reporters who had signed a petition against his removal left the network one after another, raising concern about self-censorship trend in some of our media outlets.

On a broader scale, media freedoms have indeed become a concern for many people, an issue that authorities would do well to pay heed.

Whenever Hong Kong was ranked the freest economy in the world, our government officials would eagerly appear on TV claiming credit. However, does it ever occur to them that press freedom is indeed the mother of all sorts of social freedom, and that freedom of the press and information is the cornerstone of our economic prosperity?

That said, I hope the next government can really do something solid and tangible, rather than just pay lip service, for the cause of press freedom in Hong Kong.

Now, let’s come to the discussion on matters related to the chief executive. 

Shortly after his secret relations with business tycoons came to light in 2012, former chief executive Donald Tsang appointed a commission chaired by former chief justice Andrew Li to review the existing laws to find a way to deal with potential corruption allegations involving the chief executive.

In its final report, the commission suggested that articles 3 and 8 of the existing Prevention of Bribery Ordinance be extended to apply to the chief executive as well.

But Hong Kong’s current leader, Leung Chun-ying, has failed to implement the suggestion, saying such legislation involves complicated constitutional issues.

My question for Leung is this: When even Beijing has adopted a take-no-prisoners approach in dealing with corrupt officials in the mainland, how can he justify delaying legislating against corruption of the CE in Hong Kong?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 22

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Former Secretary for the Civil Service of the Hong Kong Government

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