South China Morning Post, February 20, 2001

Officials tethered to Tung's service


By Martin Lee

Shortly after the election of George W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States, he chose his cabinet, including former General Colin Powell as Secretary of State and Paul O'Neil as Secretary of the Treasury.

Here in Hong Kong, because of Mrs. Anson Chan Fang On-sang's recent resignation as Chief Secretary for Administration, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa last week announced two major appointments to his government: Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as Chief Secretary, and Antony Leung Kam-chung as Financial Secretary.

Mr. Bush's choices were subject to the approval of the U.S. Senate while Mr. Tung's choices were subject to the approval of the Central People's Government in Beijing which actually made the appointments - under the terms of Articles 15 and 48(5) of the Basic Law.

The US President can choose anyone he likes for any cabinet post, but he must secure majority support from the Senators, who are democratically elected by the people of the United States - two from each State. And Senate hearings can be long and thorough, in order to ensure that the nominee enjoys the confidence of the people whom he or she will serve. This procedure also applies to judicial appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as the Federal Courts.

In Hong Kong, the Chief Executive's appointment or removal of any of the Judges of the Court of Final Appeal or the Chief Judge of the High Court also requires "the endorsement of the Legislative Council" under Article 90 of the Basic Law.

But Legco's endorsement is not required for the appointment of senior government officials under the Basic Law, because we were told during the drafting stage of the Basic Law that the whole system of the civil service must be kept intact after 1997, particularly its political neutrality.

Indeed, when a ministerial system of government was suggested, it was soundly rejected by the Mainland drafters because that would constitute a departure from the then current practice. Hence Article 103 provides "Hong Kong's previous system of .... the public service .... shall be maintained " .

But Mr. Tung is now making major changes to the civil service. First, he is recruiting some of his most senior officials from outside the civil service. It is not only a case of Mr. Leung's appointment as Financial Secretary. In addition he has brought in Elsie Leung Oi-sie as Secretary for Justice and Yeoh Eng-kiong as Secretary for Health and Welfare - both of whom had never previously served in the civil service. Second, he is putting his senior officials on fixed term contracts.

As a result of these changes, Mr. Tung will now be able to surround himself with senior officials whom he expects would do anything for him - even to the detriment of the community - because they know that unless they continue to enjoy his full confidence, they will not get a second contract. The consequences are serious and far-reaching:-

  • All senior civil servants will become accountable to one man only - Mr. Tung;
  • Most, if not all, senior civil servants will become "yes-men" and "yes-women";
  • The civil service will completely lose its political neutrality;
  • All senior civil servants will soon be openly campaigning for Mr. Tung to be given a second term of office. Indeed, some have already begun to do so;
  • Hong Kong will effectively have a ministerial system of government. But the "ministers" are only accountable to the Chief Executive;
  • The Chief Executive in turn will only be accountable to the Central People's Government who will appoint him;
  • There will be no checks and balances from the elected members of the Legislative Council who represent the people.


In short, all power is going to be vested in one man, who is accountable neither to Legco nor the people of Hong Kong - but only to the central government in Beijing.

One recent example of the powerlessness of Legco was seen with the motion of no confidence it passed on Director of Housing Tony Miller last June over piling scandals on public-housing projects. Despite this, he still keeps his job because Mr. Tung wants him to do so.

There is no doubt that Beijing approves of what Mr. Tung is doing. For so long as the Chief Executive is guaranteed to be Beijing's choice through an undemocratic electoral system which we have in the Basic Law, the more powerful and unaccountable the Chief Executive is, and the more effective the control Beijing will have over the people of Hong Kong - and our freedoms.

Unchecked power corrupts. And unchecked absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thus, an unchecked and absolute power over the affairs of Hong Kong will be vested in Beijing, and will be exercised in Hong Kong through its appointee, the Chief Executive. The provision in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law that "the executive authorities shall be accountable to the Legislative Council" will be stood on its head.

The only way to stop all this is to make sure that the choice of the Chief Executive and all members of Legco are vested in the people of Hong Kong. For there can be no checks and balances without democracy.

If we wait any longer, the high degree of autonomy which was promised and given to us in the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law will be surrendered back to Beijing by the Chief Executive.

Wake up, Hong Kong and the rest of the world. Until there is democracy here, the policy of "one country, two system" cannot even begin.

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