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August 17th, 2012:

Champagne moment for Christine Loh and Hong Kong


Howard Winn
Aug 17, 2012

Christine Loh was espied sipping champagne in the Hong Kong Club recently and this has set some tongues wagging that she has accepted C.Y. Leung’s invitation to join his government as undersecretary for environment. However, she assures us that she has long been known to sip the occasional glass of champagne in the club, and to draw any conclusions about her joining the government would be premature.

But others say she has agreed to accept the position and that it could be announced before the end of the month. If this does indeed occur, it would be the best news for C.Y. since getting elected. His government has taken on a somewhat beleaguered look in recent weeks. The slow-motion submergence of Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po’s position over his subleased flats has not helped.

Loh would add considerable lustre to C.Y.’s government. It would send a signal that he is able to attract high-calibre people while at the same time sending out a very clear statement that the government is serious about cleaning up the environment. Given Loh’s work on the environment at the Civic Exchange – the think tank she founded – it is inconceivable that she would accept this position without assurances that she is actually going to be able to make significant changes.

There is no way that Loh, unlike her predecessor Edward Yau Tang-wah, would sit on her hands for five years. It is said that Yau had no support since Donald Tsang Yam-kuen didn’t think the environment was a problem. But Yau appeared out of his depth, stuck his head in the sand and seemed to make little effort to deal, for example, with the overwhelming evidence that the dirty air was impacting public health, or with the problem of waste management. We can assume that one of the first things Loh will look at is how to curb roadside pollution, waste disposal and a host of other issues that have not been tackled.

Her appointment, once confirmed, will be a real shot in the arm for the government and for environmentalists, who have felt they have been banging their heads against a brick wall for the past decade, and hopefully for the public, who can look forward to an improvement in the air they breathe. Air quality has for years been one of the priority issues with the local chambers of commerce in their annual input to the chief executive’s policy address.

Signs that Hong Kong is to get serious about tackling air quality will improve its international image, which has been tarnished for some years by news stories of people with young families leaving the city because of air-related health concerns. Should Loh’s appointment be confirmed, we might even break out the champagne ourselves.

Conflict of interest disclosures need to be more specific for Hong Kong politicians

what about political party donations and funding ?- we need a law to force such parties to reveal their sources of funding in the interests of clarity so we can see who is pulling their strings and thereby, their policies.

SCMP – Aug. 17, 2012

Adherence to the highest standards in preventing conflicts of interest should be first and foremost in the minds of politicians nowadays. Not only are they required to abide by the strictest rules, they are also expected to put themselves to public scrutiny. But Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his appointees to the city’s highest decision-making body apparently think otherwise.

Having been in office for 41 days, the Executive Council members finally disclosed their interests last Friday. While there appears to be no explicit rules stipulating when a new cabinet should register their interests, members’ changes in interests should be declared within 14 days. It is, therefore, reasonable to expect the new team to declare their interests on the day they assume office. There is a need for our policy makers to take their accountability seriously. The belated disclosure does not conform to the spirit of the rules seeking to prevent members from running into conflicts of interest when deciding public policies.

It is also troubling to see that the chief executive is not setting a good example for his team. The records show that Leung has not transferred his stakes to a trust as promised. Subsequent investigations by the media also revealed that one of his companies incorporated in the British Virgin Islands and its subsidiaries hold a foreign branch of the surveying giant DTZ. Leung has only said the branch’s operation does not touch on Hong Kong or the mainland, but refused to disclose more details. He was later found to have undeclared share options in DTZ. This clearly falls short of the requirement on transparency and accountability. As the head of the government, Leung is expected to sever all business ties. Withholding information does not ease concerns over conflicts of interest.

The records also show that some Exco members have invested heavily in properties. Altogether, the 30 members hold 142 properties here and overseas. This is hardly surprising in a society where property is one of the favourite investments for the well-to-do. But, inevitably, members’ strong interest in the property market will arouse concerns about whether they can steer clear of conflicts, especially when the supply of affordable housing was a key focus in Leung’s campaign platforms.

The scant information on their properties, many of which are held via shell companies, also makes public monitoring difficult. The register provides nothing other than the district where the property is situated. Only the appointee is in the position to judge if he or she will run into conflict with what is being discussed. As Exco meetings are held behind closed doors and the agenda is confidential, the public and the media will probably be kept in the dark and cannot determine if conflicts arise. It will be meaningless if the mechanism to prevent conflicts of interest stops with a simple declaration of interest on paper