Chief executive not above the law, retired minister says

September 18, 2015 12:55
Michael Suen (right) says he does not understand the remarks by Zhang Xiaoming (left) about the transcendent status of the chief executive. Photos: HKEJ, Commercial Radio

The debate about whether Hong Kong's chief executive has super powers continues as current and former cabinet ministers have come out to affirm he is clearly not above the law.

The controversy was sparked by Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, who said last weekend that the city’s leader has a constitutional status that "transcends" all three branches of government — executive, legislative and judiciary.

Veteran minister Michael Suen Ming-yeung, who served at various times as secretary for constitutional affairs, for housing and for education before he retired in 2012, has joined the fray, Ming Pao Daily reported Friday.

Suen said he did not understand why Zhang had made his remarks, nor did he understand why Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying concurred, since the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution, does not use the word "transcend".

In an interview with Commercial Radio Thursday, Suen, 71, who admitted he had not read Zhang's speech in full, agreed the chief executive does enjoy a unique status, because only he and the officials he nominates are appointed by Beijing, as Leung said Wednesday.

However, Suen said, even if the chief executive has a "transcendent" status, that does not mean Beijing has given him an "imperial sword" to put him above the law.

Ancient Chinese emperors gave their most trusted officials a sword they could use to kill offenders without having to seek permission to do so.

Asked whether Hong Kong's system entails the separation of the three branches of government, Suen said what’s most important is judicial independence, stressing that that chief executive has to abide by the law when doing his or her job -- and not go beyond it.

Suen declined to comment on whether Leung is suitable for a second term as chief executive but said a Hong Kong leader should fight for the city's benefit -- otherwise he or she should quit.

Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, echoed by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, said on the sidelines of a trade symposium in Jakarta Thursday that it is a waste of time quibbling over words like “transcendent” or “overriding” when referring to the chief executive’s status.

Yuen stressed once again that there is no doubt that the chief executive is under the supervision of the legislature and the judiciary.

-- Contact us at [email protected]