Before the government hires or promotes officials and civil servants, the candidates often need to undergo a rigorous vetting process known as “integrity checks”.
This procedure also applies to important positions such as politically accountable principal officials and members of the Executive Council (Exco).
And that raises a fundamental question: How come a number of Hong Kong’s newly appointed principal officials were caught in scandals that called into question their integrity almost immediately after they assumed office, when we have such a rigorous vetting mechanism in place?
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is only the latest example. Before her, there were former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, former development secretary Mak Chai-kwong, former Exco member Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, and several others, all of whom were engulfed by scandals after they had assumed their job or announced their candidacy for public office.
That these important public officials, who had all been subjected to painstaking integrity checking, were found to be involved in shenanigans after they had been sworn in is an outright indictment of our existing vetting system.
One serious problem with the current mechanism of integrity checks for potential public office holders is that the scrutiny is based almost entirely on the information voluntarily and honestly submitted by the vetted persons themselves, with no due diligence or verification of personal data by the authorities whatsoever.
So when persons who are being vetted deliberately conceal information or provide false information about themselves, the government just does not manage to know. Even if they don’t deliberately conceal derogatory information about themselves but just don’t possess professional knowledge, aren’t politically sensitive enough, or are simply just being forgetful, the unearthing of such information could trigger a political scandal.
A typical case is that of Mak, the former secretary for development, who was forced to resign just 12 days after he took office after media uncovered his breach of the law over his housing allowances back in the 1980s. His case has left a stain on the government’s credibility that will go down in history.
We often hear people say Hong Kong is short of political talent. However, I believe that in order to nurture political talent, the first and foremost thing we must do is to establish a system that can prevent political figures from making “low level” mistakes either inadvertently or deliberately.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 17
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]