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Bidding farewell to executive excess

The new chief must put people ahead of personal privilege

  • Sin Tsz, Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong
  • June 21, 2012
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Local educators last week asked Donald Tsang not to officiate at the presentation ceremony of the Chief Executive’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

They informed Tsang, who’s administration has been marred by a string of scandals, that the education sector has “a higher standard of ethics, morality and conduct.”

Nonetheless, Tsang insisted on attending to “share the joy with and show respect” for the teachers.

I don’t know how the recipients of the awards felt about sharing their joy with the embattled chief executive, but many in the audience signaled their disapproval by quietly leaving the venue.

Tang, a Catholic who says he goes to Mass every morning, earned the nickname “Greedy Tsang” before ending 45 years of civil service, including seven years as the top executive of Hong Kong.

Since February, reports have emerged that Tsang accepted lavish holidays on yachts and private jets owned by tycoon friends. He also reportedly rented a 279 square meter apartment in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, from a businessman friend at an exceptionally low price.

Tsang has defended such reported irregularities by saying that in each case he paid the fair market price, though he explained that the apartment was rented as a post-retirement home and because it was located near a church.

More recently, reports from the Audit Commission showed that accommodation expenses for Tsang while traveling on official visits as chief executive exceeded standard allowances by 60 percent.

Educators are not the only ones with a higher standard of ethics for the conduct of public servants.

After reports came out about Tsang’s alleged financial misconduct, residents of Hong Kong wrote opinion pieces, and called in to radio programs and took to the streets to demand that he step down – all this despite his inevitable departure from office on July 1.

Such reactions were normal. Most people get suspicious about close connections between government officials and big business, which often lead to corruption.

Shouldn’t the leader of Hong Kong, who makes major decisions on public policy, be more sensitive to such things?

The people of Hong Kong are proud of their core value of probity, and they regard corruption and misuse of public funds as shameful. Therefore, they are grieved at seeing the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s administration compromised.

When Tsang took office in 2005, the public had a good impression of him and high expectations. They believed that this devout public servant, and a good Catholic, would act accordingly.

Instead it seems that despite his frequent church attendance, Tsang missed out on the teaching that “thou shalt not covet,” and that he has failed to govern with justice and protect the underprivileged.

The Church of course offers the means of repentance to all sinners, but I see no signs yet that Tsang, who reportedly spent HK$12 million on various travel expenses, is aware of his misdeeds.

Moreover, his apparent interest in securing financial advantages and embracing the benefits of a life of luxury has dulled his conscience and kept him from seeing the great need of the less privileged.

The catechism reminds us “conscience is by degree almost blinded through the habit of committing sins. In such a case, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.”

It would be better if Tsang had better heeded his responsibility to the people instead of seeking to accrue advantages for himself.

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, and at a time when there is so much discontent with respect to the government, I hope the new administration under Leung Chun-ying will learn from past mistakes and be a more prudent servant of the people.

Sin Tsz is the pseudonym of a Catholic Church worker in Hong Kong

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