16 September 2019
Former financial secretary John Tsang is not getting any compensation for his role as host in a television show. Photo: Bloomberg
Former financial secretary John Tsang is not getting any compensation for his role as host in a television show. Photo: Bloomberg

Why is the Lam administration picking on John Tsang?

If Chief Executive Carrie Lam is bent on healing divisions in society, she should be careful about dealing with issues where her comments and actions may be construed as political maneuvers. The controversy surrounding the television program of her election rival and former colleague in government, John Tsang, is a case in point.

Although Lam clobbered him in the chief executive election in March, Tsang remains a well-regarded member of the Hong Kong community.

Following his defeat in the election, Tsang did not join any private enterprise to profit from his considerable experience from more than three decades of government service. Instead, he has chosen to work with non-governmental organizations and charitable institutions to help them gain media exposure and, consequently, more support, whether financial or otherwise. He has even performed in charity events.

Tsang, of course, did not get any monetary compensation from these activities. And, as to be expected, the government did not comment on his activities as they are charitable and non-profit in character, requiring no government approval.

But when Tsang started to host programs on Commercial Radio and Radio Television Hong Kong, for which he is not getting any compensation, administration officials started reminding him that he needed to inform the government of his activities and seek its approval.

So why is it that the government, which was silent when Tsang was doing charity work, now raising a ruckus about his radio and TV hosting?

If by hosting TV shows, Tsang is violating rules for former government officials or putting himself in a situation where there may be a conflict of interest, then the government is justified in requiring him to make a prior notification of such activities.

But it just doesn’t look right for the government to be ignoring his non-profit activities over the past several months and then suddenly confronting him about his equally non-profit hosting of a TV program.

In fact, the government went public about its concern over Tsang’s latest activity after a Chinese newspaper published a news item about it last Saturday.

The article cited sources as saying that the government was checking with RTHK whether Tsang had secured government approval to host a program for the public broadcaster.

So it was the government that initiated the move to check on Tsang’s role in the radio-TV station.

The report tends to give the impression that Tsang has done something wrong by hosting a TV show without first telling the government about it. Is anyone then trying to tarnish Tsang’s reputation and credibility?

Tsang said he didn’t see the need for him to inform the government about appearing as a guest presenter on an RTHK television series because he was not paid for the role.

But both Lam and her chief secretary, Matthew Cheung, criticized Tsang for not following the rules about former politically appointed officials.

Interestingly, Civil Service Secretary Joshua Law did not comment on the issue.

And this makes us wonder if the issue about Tsang is about politics rather than just a simple case of a former minister breaching the rules.

The chief secretary on Sunday said no one is putting pressure on the former financial secretary and the government is just requesting factual information about his employment.

Then Lam warned that Tsang must respect a mechanism that requires top officials to consult a government committee over any employment in the 12 months after they leave the government, saying that other former top officials had spoken to the panel about their engagements after leaving the SAR government, including about unpaid positions.

Lam said the system relies on ex-officials taking the initiative to declare “any employment”. She stressed there is no political intervention in Tsang’s case, although staff from her office were following up on the matter.

But Hong Kong people see double standards being applied here, considering the government’s completely different treatment of the case of former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was earlier found to have set up two private firms to help push Beijing’s “one belt, one road” initiative.

After the issue was reported by local media, Leung hurriedly changed the nature of the two firms into non-profit organizations.

Leung also had not reported his ventures to the government, but no senior government official said anything about potential conflict of interest or wrongdoing.

In fact, the chief secretary even praised CY Leung for presenting sufficient information about his two companies for the government’s approval.

The question is, why did the government criticized Tsang, but not Leung? If the rules were fair, transparent and reasonable, no one would like to violate them. So is there double standard on how to treat former officials about their activities after leaving the government?

Some analysts are of the view that some officials in the Lam administration lack confidence and feel insecure when facing Tsang with his high popularity, and their tendency is to throw dirt on the former official.

But why doesn’t the government just focus on the implementation of initiatives in Lam’s policy address, instead of picking on a man going about his quiet way?

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