Lack of transparency politicises everything

South China Morning Post | 2008-06-19 
EDT15| EDT| By Dennis Kwok 

Recently, The Economist carried an article criticising Hong Kong as an international financial centre for our falling standards of corporate governance. The article focused on the resignation of David Webb from the board of the stock exchange, and how the government put its voting muscle behind its nominee, who has less experience in finance than other candidates.

Apparently, the government and the stock exchange are having quiet discussions about creating a new set of listing rules that would lower disclosure requirements. Whether standards of corporate governance have declined in Hong Kong is worth further debate, but this article highlights a deeper problem within our society. That the government frequently appoints its own people to the boards of public companies, advisory committees and other public bodies is a well-known fact of life in Hong Kong.

This mode of appointments has crept into every aspect of public life. Ironically, what you frequently hear from these pro-establishment figures is how we must not politicise everything. But, by practising their brand of non-politicisation, our society is becoming more politicised than ever. Appointments are based on political affiliation: loyalty is valued over expertise; political correctness over ability. Is pluralism dead?

The Professional Commons believes the success of the West Kowloon Cultural District project will hinge largely on the composition of its management authority. We must have suitably qualified experts, who are truly knowledgeable about arts and culture, sitting on the authority. Political considerations should not play a role.

The decision on appointments must be ultimately accountable to the people. In an international city, there is no reason why this cannot be. But, in the current climate, our recommendations will most likely fall on deaf ears.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the appointments system has generated deeply entrenched divisions within our society. Yet, if our government is at all serious about achieving its lofty goal of building a harmonious society, this can only be achieved through unity, not further division.

The controversial appointment of deputy ministers and political appointees highlights another example of this same problem. Throughout the entire process, the public has largely been kept in the dark. No one knows who made the actual decisions, let alone what criteria were used. Openness and accountability were completely non-existent in the process.

This further exasperated the public, which already felt that some of these appointees were taking a short cut and that their commitment to serving Hong Kong was in serious doubt. Everything about these appointments flew in the face of accountability and open government.

The administration’s primary aim in these appointments is to produce future political leaders. The chief executive should be careful what kind of leaders he is producing.

 

Dennis Kwok is a founding member of the Professional Commons

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