26 August 2019
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng is under pressure not only from the opposition but also from her pro-establishment allies. Photo: HKEJ
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng is under pressure not only from the opposition but also from her pro-establishment allies. Photo: HKEJ

How long can Teresa Cheng hold on to her post?

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng’s insistence on holding on to her job has become even more untenable after she announced that illegal structures have also been found in three more of her properties.

Even members of the pro-Beijing camp, if they haven’t turned against her, have started to avoid her. The growing scandal is threatening to hurt the image of the entire administration, including that of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, who has enjoyed high popularity ratings since she assumed office in July last year.

In fact, pro-Beijing lawmakers have become her leading critics while democrats are busy preparing for the Legislative Council by-elections in March.

Legislator Paul Tse, who is known to have close ties with Beijing’s Liaison Office, stressed that the issue about Teresa Cheng is no longer just about the illegal structures found in her properties but about how she has been handling the incident – her political judgment, her crisis management skills.

Tse said Cheng should answer the questions raised by lawmakers as soon as possible and any delay would be dangerous for her. The secretary did not attend a meeting of Legco’s justice and legal services panel this week.

But Tse said it’s still too early to say if Cheng should step down, saying that the pro-Beijing camp should consider all the factors involved.

Meanwhile, pan-democratic lawmakers are set to launch a motion urging Cheng to face the lawmakers and answer their questions. The pro-Beijing camp, meanwhile, invited Cheng to the Legco prior to a debate on the motion next week to avoid any embarrassment. Some pro-establishment lawmakers said they may even support the motion under the pressure from their supporters.

It is not clear if the pro-Beijing legislators will turn against the government official at Legco, but it is very clear that Cheng is in a very precarious situation.

As justice minister, she is supposed to be the foremost person in the administration to uphold the rule of law, but the scandal about the illegal structures in her properties besmirch the very office that she holds.

Ordinary citizens have suffered from the government crackdown on illegal structures in local homes, and have spent huge amounts to restore their properties to their original structures. But here comes Secretary Cheng who can easily shirk responsibility for the same illegal structures on the excuse that she was too busy to notice them.

The scandal highlights the perceived unequal implementation of the law. It gives the impression that the law is harsh on ordinary citizens but lax on the elite.

Our building authorities appear to be focusing their campaign against illegal structures on old buildings in urban areas while conveniently ignoring violations in luxury apartments.

With Cheng deeply immersed in the scandal, what credibility will she have in deciding which cases should be brought to the courts of law?

But the Carrie Lam administration continues to stand by Cheng as justice minister. Acting Chief Executive  Matthew Cheung said on Tuesday that the public shouldn’t associate the growing scandal surrounding Cheng with the government’s image.

Cheung appealed to the public to give the minister more time to the fix the problems. He also insisted that the saga should not call into question the integrity of the government.

But as more sordid details are disclosed about the illegal structures in Cheng’s homes, and as she maintains her nonchalant attitude towards those violations, we wonder how long the administration can keep her as justice minister?

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EJ Insight writer

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