The claim that the appointment of Lam Woon-kwong, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), as convener of the Executive Council (ExCo) creates a conflict of roles is nothing but an attempt by the opposition to undermine Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s administration. Lam’s decision to remain as ExCo convener shows he is responsible and accountable. And he deserves the support and blessing of Hong Kong residents.
It is legitimate and righteous for Lam to hold two offices at the same time. According to the Basic Law, “The Executive Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be an organ for assisting the Chief Executive in policy-making.” However, the ExCo is not a policy-making body, but the highest think tank of the SAR government. It does not follow the principle of a minority subordinated to majority rule, as commonly practiced in “cabinets”. The CE can make decisions on policies despite there being objections by a majority of ExCo members.
In terms of responsibilities, the EOC is an official human rights body in charge of implementing the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, the Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and the Race Discrimination Ordinance. It is devoted to eliminating discrimination against certain sex, marital status, pregnancy, disabilities, household roles and race. It is also committed to eliminating sexual harassment and verbal abuse of disabilities and races, promoting equal opportunity for men and women, people with or without disability, individuals of different races and those with or without family roles.
Since the ExCo is not an official policy-making institution, there is no violation of the Paris Principle in Lam serving as ExCo convener and EOC chairman at the same time. And it will not hinder the EOC’s normal function.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong has an effective mechanism to prevent conflict of interest. First, there are two safeguards to prevent conflict of interest involving the ExCo: one is withholding sensitive documents from an ExCo member if his status and/or job is linked to an issue covered in the documents in question and to ensure that the ExCo member is provided no knowledge of what may be discussed in ExCo meetings concerning matters of personal interest to him. The other safeguard requires an ExCo member to leave a meeting when matters of personal interest to him are discussed and that ExCo member is honor bound to inform the ExCo of any personal interest related to the issues under discussion, even if only an indirect interest.
Second, the media maintains a close watch over potential conflicts of interest. Hong Kong has a highly developed media and freedom of speech is well protected in the city, hence every move by public figures is constantly observed by the media. Given the public attention to the so-called conflict of interest issue, Lam would not have the chance to take advantage of his official capacities for his own benefit even if he wanted to.
In fact, the public supports Lam in continuing to hold two offices at the same time. According to press reports, more than 20 organizations have sent letters to the EOC to express support for Lam to maintain his dual service as ExCo convener and EOC chairman, concurrently. At an extraordinary meeting of the EOC on July 10, attended by 14 of the 16 board members, 12 offered their support for Lam’s taking the ExCo job, saying they believed he could give the EOC a voice that could be heard by the government. Only the two opposition members of the EOC insisted that Lam should not hold the two offices at the same time. Meanwhile, many local dignitaries also spoke publicly in support of Lam’s decision to work both jobs. All this shows Lam enjoys popular support for his decision to assume responsibility for two government bodies.
It is a sign showing a sense of responsibility and an acknowledgement of popular wish for Lam Woon-kwong to remain as ExCo convener. He deserves the praise and blessing of local residents. The opposition camp should stop acting in opposition to popular sentiment, refrain from opposing for opposing’s sake and turn itself to making contributions to causes aimed at benefiting Hong Kong and its residents.
The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.