【明報專訊】WHAT has come to light in the past few days concerning Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's "Tycoongate" scandal is really shocking. Informed sources close to the ICAC point out that, if the media reports are true, Tsang may be prosecuted for violating the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and for the common law offence of misconduct in public office.
Henry Tang Ying-yen's "Basementgate" scandal is equally serious. Tang has lied and lied again, and claims that the basement was built only after an occupation permit was received. However, as many building professionals have pointed out, it is quite unimaginable that a basement more than 2,000 square feet in area can be built after the property's superstructure. If the professionals are correct, Tang may be prosecuted for a serious criminal offence.
The public are expecting the law enforcement bodies to look thoroughly into the two cases. The rule of law is a core value that the Hong Kong public regard as most important. The authorities concerned must not, when carrying out their investigations, drag their feet simply because the persons involved are the government's highest ranking officials. They must not only be fair and accurate in their investigations, but must also be seen by the public as so.
The principal figures involved in the two scandals are the Chief Executive and the former Chief Secretary for Administration. We cannot but wonder why, with the great responsibility and authority vested in them, they seem to believe they can do anything with impunity. The law enforcement bodies must rise to the occasion and fully investigate the two cases so that the offenders may be punished or, if the media reports are found to be false, their names may be cleared. If even the law enforcement bodies fail to meet the public's expectations, the public will come to believe that the rule of law no longer exists and those in authority are always above the law. The result will be endless protest demonstrations, and there will be no peace and harmony in Hong Kong.
The two cases also constitute a trial to the Central Government's principle of "Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong". If the Chief Executive and the former Chief Secretary for Administration are arrested for criminal offences, the Central Government will find itself in a very awkward position. However, if political considerations are put before the rule of law, Hong Kong will soon turn into a corruption-ridden society. The Central Government must therefore not try to intervene, but should keep itself apart from the two cases.
The scandals also make it clear that there are serious loopholes in the bribery prevention regulations governing the Chief Executive. Sections 3 and 8 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance should have been applicable to the present case involving the Chief Executive: Section 3 forbids public officials from soliciting or accepting any advantage without permission, and Section 8 prescribes that nobody, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, should offer any advantage to any public servant employed by the government or other public bodies while having dealings with the government or those public bodies. However, in 2008, when the Legislative Council revised the Ordinance, the government's proposal to waive these two regulations with respect to the Chief Executive was accepted with the help of lawmakers of the establishmentarian camp.
If the ICAC investigates the Chief Executive's case, there is one important question to be answered. According to Article 57 of the Basic Law, the ICAC is "accountable to the Chief Executive". In other words, the ICAC is headed by the Chief Executive, and how are we to ensure that the ICAC is objective and fair when investigating its own chief? There is as yet no consensus in this regard. What is most important is therefore the establishment of a system that is open and transparent, and can prevent the Chief Executive from interfering with the investigations.