Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who will demit office in less than two months, has found himself in yet another controversy.
This time, he is being accused of acting in concert with a pro-establishment lawmaker and trying to revise the scope of a Legislative Council probe into Leung’s past dealings with Australian firm UGL.
On Monday, news surfaced that Leung’s office may have edited a draft document pertaining to a Legco panel’s UGL investigation, taking the help of DAB lawmaker Holden Chow.
As per media reports, the Legco secretariat alerted lawmakers to changes made in a document that outlined the scope of a probe into Leung’s financial transactions with UGL many years ago.
The document, submitted by Chow to the Legco secretariat, incorporated several changes made by “CEO-CE”, suggesting that either Leung’s office or the CE himself had made the edits.
The document was meant for use by a Legco committee that will look into a controversial HK$50 million payment that Leung received from UGL in an arrangement struck before he took office as Hong Kong’s leader in 2012.
According to reports, the draft document saw numerous changes, not only in font size and grammar but also removal and addition of lines in relation to the scope of the probe.
Among other things, the “CEO-CE” is said to have edited wording related to the background of the UGL case, as well as matters relating to disclosure requirements by the chief executive and conflict of interests.
Leung received a HK$50 million payout from UGL after the Australian firm acquired insolvent property company DTZ, where Leung had been a director.
The money was paid to prevent Leung from setting up or joining a rival firm. Though the deal was struck before 2012, some of the payment was received after Leung assumed the CE post.
He did not declare the payment at the time and later argued he did not need to do so, as it was only a normal “non-compete and non-poach” agreement.
A legco panel is set to delve into the matter to determine if Leung met all the disclosure guidelines.
Now, the Legco secretariat has notified lawmakers that a document submitted by Chow in relation to the panel probe has undergone several edits, purportedly at the hands of “CEO-CE”.
Chow, at a hearing, reportedly admitted that changes were made in the draft document. He did not confirm the origin of the edits, but admitted that Leung had approached him to suggest alterations in the text.
Leung, meanwhile, played a word game when questioned if he had intervened in the matter.
At first he refused to directly confirm whether his office had made numerous changes to Chow’s draft document. However, he didn’t deny the allegation either, saying that the CE’s office has “every right” to make suggestions.
Leung, of course, has every right to make suggestions on the UGL investigation by the legislature.
Still, there is this question: Did he not cross a line by urging a pro-Beijing lawmaker to send him the document, revising it and then sending it back to the lawmaker?
Critics can say Leung’s suspected action amounts to using his power to intervene in the Legco probe.
Political analysts have noted that the words added by “CEO-CE” in the document were mostly aimed at raising questions as to the need for an investigation, and issues related to interpretation of Article 47 of the Basic Law on declaration of interests of officials.
Also, Leung will have to address this issue: why did he feel the need to contact a pro-Beijing lawmaker to ensure changes in the document?
As the leader of the SAR, Leung has so many platforms and channels to voice out his view on the UGL case. Most of the pro-Beijing media outlets would speak in favor of him. The Legislative Council also has sufficient pro-Beijing members to try to settle the investigation in his favor.
Leung’s action had blurred the line between the executive and the legislature. The tradition of separation of powers among the executive, legislature and judiciary was given the go-by, as Chow and Leung directly exchanged documents without any hesitation.
Leung treated a lawmaker as his cohort, while Chow treated Leung as his boss. This goes against the very idea of having the legislature function as a body that will be a monitor on the executive.
Following the revelations, pan-democrats have slammed both Leung and Chow, with the latter described by some as serving as an “undercover agent” of Leung on the investigation committee.
It is fair for the opposition camp lawmakers to demand that Chow quit the investigation committee to avoid further conflict of interest.
If Chow continues to sit on the panel, it could lead to more leakage of information to the CE office, to help Leung prepare well for the investigation.
The latest controversy, if anything, has only lent credence to the allegations of a “partnership” between pro-Beijing lawmakers and Leung’s office.
One would suspect that it is just the latest in a long list of cases where the CE’s office has meddled in Legco affairs in the past five years.
As for Chow, the issue really boils down to this: his integrity as a lawmaker and whether he has compromised it.
Given the serious allegations, he should step aside and disclose the full extent of his communication with Leung or the CE Office with regards to the work of the select committee.
By facilitating covert actions, Chow has served as an agent of Leung, rather than play the role of a citizens’ watchdog in the legislature.
He should be prepared for a backlash from the public.
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