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August 5th, 2014:

Law needed to regulate funding of political parties

(Left to right) Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and legislator Leung Kwok-hung.

(Left to right) Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and legislator Leung Kwok-hung.

The controversy surrounding donations made to lawmakers is still raging as more evidence continues to surface. Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, who insisted the donation made to him had been received on behalf of the party, revealed that the money had stayed in his personal bank account for nine months. It was only transferred to the party after the donations by pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying came to light. Separately, Leung Kwok-hung admitted that the donation to the League of Social Democrats was set aside to finance his legal bills and those of others. The disclosures have raised fresh queries about whether the donations constitute benefits for lawmakers and should, therefore, have been declared under Legislative Council rules.

Leung conceded that he had handled the donation poorly and apologised. As he rightly said, the public is entitled to know how the money is used, regardless of whether the leak to the media was aimed at undermining the pan-democrats’ fight for universal suffrage. Lee maintained that he had made no personal gain, but felt worried if questions over his integrity had dealt a blow to the democracy campaign. Whether the explanations can lay the controversy to rest remains unclear. But those involved should make every effort to clear the air. Legco should also determine if further investigation is needed.

Political figures are expected to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. It’s a shame that some lawmakers stressed the importance of being “whiter than white” when it comes to the conduct of officials, but failed to subject themselves to the same principle. The existing declaration rules cover individuals rather than parties. Unless tighter regulation is introduced, parties from across the political spectrum can continue to dodge disclosure of their sources of funding. The lack of transparency and accountability is inconsistent with the parties’ growing influence in public policies and affairs. The controversy underlines the need for a law to better regulate party funding as we move towards full democracy.
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