Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam drops plan to extend anti-bribery laws to her role as chief executive

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Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will not extend the city’s anti-bribery laws to cover her own chief executive position, reneging on a promise she made in her election manifesto three years ago.

Lam said amending the law would affect her “constitutional role” in the political system, insisting Beijing – which the Post earlier reported was opposed to the change – would take any necessary actions were she to be involved in misconduct.

“[The amendments] were far more complicated, and could end up with … very difficult situations for the chief executive to discharge his or her duties. That’s why, despite attempts being made, we could not overcome those difficulties,” she said ahead of her weekly meeting with her policy advisers on Tuesday.

If there are other brighter ideas on how we could do this without violating the constitutional position of the chief executive, then [future administrations] could always look at the issue again

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam

Lam was referring to Sections 3 and 8 of the anti-bribery ordinance, which govern the conduct of ministers and civil servants but exempt the chief executive.

Calls to address the issue first emerged in 2012, when then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen faced allegations of accepting bribes from a businessman. A special committee chaired by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang later recommended the law be revised to cover the city leader and require he or she to obtain permission before accepting advantages.

Running for the top job in 2017, Lam vowed to revise the ordinance as suggested and to “resolve as soon as possible those constitutional and legal issues” necessary for an amendment. Following her victory that same year, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in a reply to lawmakers that the government would “initiate the legislative procedure as early as possible”.

But on Tuesday, Lam insisted that revising the provisions could affect her “constitutional role” in the city’s political system, saying the central government would take “appropriate actions” against any wrongdoings committed by a city leader.

“If there are other brighter ideas on how we could do this without violating the constitutional position of the chief executive, then of course in the future administration, they could always look at the issue again,” she said, adding the revision would no longer be a priority in her remaining 1½ -year term.

Hong Kong still needs mechanisms in place for monitoring. If we only rely on Beijing’s political decisions, that is not a healthy, well-established system

Lam Cheuk-ting, former opposition lawmaker

The Post reported last year that Beijing officials found it unacceptable to amend laws in a way that would put the chief executive under the supervision of city ordinances.

Former opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting called the chief executive’s exclusion from monitoring under the anti-bribery ordinance a “so-called loophole”. Amending the law, he said, would put in place necessary checks and balances on the city’s leader.

“The system of Hong Kong is very clear that no one is above the law. Right now, the chief executive is the only exception in the government not abiding by Section 3,” said Lam. The section noted criminalises the solicitation or acceptance of advantages by civil servants without the city leader’s permission, but does not cover those who occupy the top post.

“Of course, Beijing could terminate the chief executive’s service at any time, but Hong Kong still needs mechanisms in place for monitoring. If we only rely on Beijing’s political decision, that is not a healthy, well-established system,” he added.

Separately, Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the government remained undecided about whether to require teachers and those working in government-subsidised organisations to swear allegiance to the city, alongside all the other civil servants now required to do so.

“Hong Kong’s legislation, as far as public office, is pretty loose and wide, so we are still deliberating carefully on this issue,” she said.

Considerations include whether employees’ positions are statutory, and if institutions are government-funded or public offices that discharge public power.

In her annual policy blueprint unveiled last week, Lam said all civil servants would be required “in due course” to sign a declaration pledging to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, a requirement already compulsory for those who joined the public service from July 1 this year.

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