Accountability re-defined

"Grandfather” must be quietly pleased with the effort the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is learning his way of doing things, such as conveniently re-defining a word or expression to give it a meaning that suits a particular political purpose. In China and, increasingly, in Hong Kong, “harmony” now takes on the unique meaning of “the silence of dissident voices”. In recent years, the HKSAR Government has also given “accountability” a special interpretation which deviates from the universally understood notion of “being responsible for the effects of one’s actions”. A good example is the way the government reacted to the findings of a report recently released by a Legislative Council select committee on the post-retirement saga involving former director of housing Leung Chin-man.

Civil service chief Denise Yue was accused by the report as failing to act as a gatekeeper in approving Leung's application to work for New World China Land, whose parent company got the Hunghom Peninsula subsidised housing project at a bargain price. The report described Yue’s failure as regrettable.

To prove that the accountability system for principal officials is at work, the HKSAR Government has taken punitive action against Yue – civil service chief has been “rebuked” by the chief executive. Chief Secretary of Administration Henry Tang defended the action taken, saying that the rebuke is appropriate, and that Yue has accepted responsibility and apologised to the public.

That is the new meaning accorded to “accountability”, if you like.

I have been trying to picture Sir Donald Tsang rebuking his terrified subordinate. He only needed to be half as harsh as when he answered queries by Legco members or the public and that would be quite a scene.

"Ms Yue, I hereby rebuke you for…,” I can see Sir Donald fuming. “@#*$!”

Ironically, the news on the same day reported that a Philippine delegation will meet today with Sir Donald and Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee to review the investigation into the Manila bloodbath in August. While the Philippine Government has admitted that errors have been made. I wonder what the HKSAR Government’s reaction would be if the delegation reported that the President has “rebuked” the officials at fault and they think that the punitive action is “appropriate”.

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