RTHK "Letter to Hong Kong"
by Martin Lee
Broadcast on RTHK Radio 3 on 27 December 1998
As we draw near to the end of 1998, I'd like to look back to see how the Government has behaved during this year. I think the ethos of governance has changed, quite apart from the lack of leadership on the part of the Chief Executive, Mr. C.H. Tung. This Government seems to be going against the will of the people.
My first criticism of this Government during this year is its total disregard of the people's yearnings for democracy which was shown very clearly by the people turning out in unprecedented numbers in spite of heavy rainstorms on the twenty-fourth of May of this year. The reward they got from the Government was, first, the scrapping of the Urban Council and the Regional Council and the Government's decision to take back all the powers so far given to these municipal councils; and second, by increasing the number of appointed seats in all the District Boards. This is particularly shameful when we see that in Taiwan that democracy has been doing so well. The conclusion that one is driven to draw from this is that our government wishes Beijing to know that we in Hong Kong will not go down the democratic route; thereby justifying the Beijing leaders' decision to stall on political and democratic development in the Mainland.
My second criticism of this Government is that it seems to have gone back on the well-respected policy of positive non-intervention particularly in the financial markets, namely, leaving it to the free hand, or the invisible hand as Adam Smith put it, by spending more than one hundred billion dollars to buy and hold Hong Kong shares. The Government also intervened in the property market in a big way by freezing the sale of Government land.
My third criticism is that there has been a lowering of standards resulting in the erosion of the integrity of some institutions. I think the appointment of Mrs. Alice Tai as the Ombudsman is an important one. She is an extremely able civil servant, and I would not complain if she were appointed even to succeed Anson Chan as the next Chief Secretary because she is such an able person. But unfortunately, she is still married, and happily married, to the Commissioner of Transport, and the Transport Department, of course, is very much under her jurisdiction as Ombudsman. Of course, when the complaint relates to her husband she is not going to deal with it. But assuming she leaves it to her right-hand man, what would the public think? If at the end of such investigation her husband is completely exonerated from blame, what do you think the complainant will think? Is he going to say, "I trust Ms. Tai and her colleagues and I believe justice is done although my complaint has not been established or accepted"? Or is he more likely to say, "How could I expect justice when the person investigating it is, of course, a subordinate officer to Ms. Tai, whose husband's conduct is being impugned"?
But what is even more difficult to understand is why Mr. Andrew So had not, in the first place, been reappointed as Ombudsman because he has won the support and appreciation of many people in Hong Kong, including many legislators. And instead, a loyal civil servant has been appointed to take over for him.
I am also worried and concerned about the well-reported recommendation by the Secretary for Justice of a solicitor, Mr. Wen, to be the next Solicitor General, although that recommendation has not yet been accepted by the Government and announced. The trouble is, of course, that Mr. Wen had been found guilty of misconduct by the Law Society a few years ago and was reprimanded publicly about it. Are we being told that there is no better candidate for this post?
My fourth criticism is that this Government has not been seen to be speaking up for the Hong Kong S.A.R. in relation to the Central Government. A very good example of that is the ridiculous defense on the part of the Secretary of Justice and the Secretary for Security of the decision in China mainland to have tried in China mainland an alleged murderer who was alleged to have murdered five women in Hong Kong. They did not apparently even ask the Central Government to have this man brought back to Hong Kong to be tried. But instead, they tried to defend the China mainland's decision by twisting the language of their law.
My final criticism relates to a very recent event, and that is the way the Chief Executive and the Chief Secretary reacted to a very surprising statement from a property tycoon, Mr. Li Ka-shing. Mr. Li Ka-shing is clearly the most well-known business tycoon in Hong Kong in the world. Mr. Li made the statement recently in public that he found that the Hong Kong environment is no longer favorable for large investment because of the political climate. Whereas I entirely respect Mr. Li's right to say what he wishes, the statement has clearly very serious implications for Hong Kong because a foreign investor will wonder why he should invest in Hong Kong if a local tycoon is not going to do so. And if our Chief Executive, Mr. Tung, or Mr. Donald Tsang, the Financial Secretary, were to travel abroad again to try to persuade foreign investors to come to Hong Kong, I am afraid they will be met by a simple question: If Hong Kong is so good for foreign investment, why is Mr. Li not going ahead with this huge investment?
Therefore, it falls upon the Government to refute the implications of Mr. Li Ka-shing's statement by saying very clearly that Hong Kong is still a very good place to invest their money. We have the rule of law, we have a level playing field, although there are worrying signs of erosion. The Chief Executive made a response to Mr. Li Ka-shing's statement but it was so wishy-washy that it could easily have been understood to mean that he actually agreed with Mr. Li Ka-shing. As for the Chief Secretary, Mrs. Anson Chan's statement, she seemed to be very happy that Mr. Li Ka-shing had confirmed to her that he was not complaining about the Hong Kong Government's handling of various things. Both of them should, and they owe it to the Hong Kong people, to refute the statement of Mr. Li Ka-shing in no uncertain terms. Otherwise how on earth can they expect and hope that foreign investors will continue to come to Hong Kong ever again in the future?
One may ask, "Why is the Chief Executive guilty of so many things?" I venture to suggest that it is because he hasn't got the right people to tell him what is going wrong in Hong Kong. He has surrounded himself with yes-men and women and many of them have vested interests in the Executive Council and elsewhere. When Chris Patten was governor he had Mr. Tung on his Executive Council, someone who totally disagreed on him on a number important issues like the development of democracy, human rights, and so on. But can we find a similar person in Mr. Tung's Executive Council, someone who disagrees with him at least on certain issues?