Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My wife is not my problem! (Letter to Hong Kong 26-7-13)

In more ways than one, a wife is definitely an asset to any politician.After all, a wife is generally regarded as a symbol of family values. Her sense of fashion, her demeanour and appearance can woo female, and sometimes, even male voters. But best of all, a wife can be a shield; an expendable collateral.And in Hong Kong, a wife is exactly that to many prominent people in public office. Just look at Henry Tang, the aspiring Chief Executive candidate; and now, Paul Chan Mo-Po, affectionately known to the Hong Kong press as Po-po. Affectionately,because he is such a rich provider of news worthy stories.

Within days of becoming the Secretary for Development, Po-po was involved in a scandal concerning subdivided cubicles of a flat owned by his wife. “It’s my wife’s, my mine!” proclaimed indignantly by him at the time.  And just this week, when the media discovered his family owned 3 plots of land within the area of the great North East Development Plan, a huge government project overseen by him, he shouted exactly the same thing at the top of his voice. So it is his wife’s; or perhaps his wife's and his son’s, one is not too sure nowadays; but is it a defence?

Our Chief Executive, Mr. C. Y. Leung, seeing the proclamation is not winning any forgiveness in LegCo nor understanding from the press, quickly came to Po-po’s rescue. “This is all strictly legal,” he says, “as a member of the Executive Council need not report any interest held by a wife!”. Presumably,the rule, or the lack of one, also applies to a husband.  This is all very civilized, some say, for a wife is a separate and distinct being and an equal. And who cares anyway. But is a wife separate and distinct from her husband in the field of conflict of interest?

Okay, let’s look at some of the comparable rules. Under the Securities and Futures Ordinance, a law regulating our financial markets and dealings therein, a wife is not regarded as separate and distinct from her husband; and vice versa. A person's spouse, or reputed spouse, or any person cohabiting with that person as a spouse,is regarded as an “Associate”of that person for the purposes of whether someone is in control of a corporation and issues relating to market misconduct. And a person is regarded as having an interest in the securities of a corporation if he is in control of that corporation by reference to the definition above, namely, if his wife has an interest in that corporation. Furthermore, any interest held by the wife is regarded as the husband’s interest and is reportable interest under the rules of disclosure for listed companies.

So you would ask, if for purposes of public companies, a wife’s interest is not regarded as separate and distinct from her husband’s, how come our rules of disclosure in ExCo is even more relaxed than the regulation of listed companies? Don’t get me wrong. We are not talking about true ownership or women’s rights here. We are talking about public perception. We are talking about safeguards against abuse and conflict of interest. We are talking about public confidence in matters of public office.

A member of ExCo and a Principal Official as defined under the Basic Law is entrusted with strictly confidential information every day. Information a lot of people will pay a lot of money for.Information far more sensitive and valuable than insider information of a listed company. This is not to mention a member of Exco and a Principal Official is at all times accountable to the public for whom he serves. If, for purposes of market misconduct and disclosure of interest in public companies, a man cannot hide behind his wife, all the more reason why he can’t do so as a member of ExCo and a Principal Official. Such conduct itself is an abuse of public trust and confidence and is open to censure.

So when our dear Po-po has simmered down and has time to reconsider the rights and wrongs of a person in public office, perhaps he would come to the inevitable conclusion that if he can’t be accountable to the people of Hong Kong, he should simply resign.

1 comment:

Frankie Fook-lun Leung said...

an official or an exco member only resigns in a democratic society. In a non-democratic society, there are many ways to hide his or her misdeeds depending on who protects him or her from above. H K is becoming like that.