Hong Kong Communications Authority chairman quits after failing to disclose China Mobile shares


The chairman of the Hong Kong Communications Authority has stepped down from his post after failing to disclose shares he bought, which included China Mobile stock.

Huen Wong said he had failed to declare an interest after a “portfolio of shares was purchased under [his] name” two years before he assumed his role.

In a statement on Monday, Wong, a former president of Hong Kong’s Law Society, said he had submitted his resignation to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday, with immediate effect.

“Due to my oversight, I did not make a timely declaration in accordance with the requirements,” he said in the statement.

He said his “inadvertent” omission had not affected the work of the Communications Authority, nor had it resulted in any conflict of interest. “However, it is incumbent upon me to adhere strictly to the requirement,” he added.

I think this is a very regrettable and unfortunate incident. It could well undermine people’s perception toward the work the Communications Authority has been doing

Charles Mok, lawmaker for the IT sector

A separate statement, on the government’s website, said Lam had accepted Wong’s resignation and that a replacement would be sought.

Wong, a solicitor by profession, was less than halfway through his two-year term as chairman, having been appointed by then chief executive Leung Chun-ying on March 31 last year.

In a press conference on Monday evening, Wong struck a contrite tone but did not reveal how many shares in China Mobile he had bought.

He admitted even holding a “single share” in a related company should be disclosed.

“Rules, ultimately, are rules that need to be stuck to,” said Wong. “I should undertake the consequences of failing to disclose the holdings of these shares, and a resignation seems to be the appropriate thing to do.

“I have considered all the disclosure requirements, internal guidelines as well as rules related to disclosures of holdings of shares. This is the best way to preserve the credibility of the Communications Authority.”

Wong did not say when he bought or sold the stocks in question. Shares of China Mobile have shed about 40 per cent in the last two years to trade at HK$74. The broader Hang Seng Index has gained 15 per cent during the same period.

Charles Mok, a lawmaker for the IT sector, said: “This is a very regrettable and unfortunate incident.

“Although it is hard to know if there are any major wrongdoings of Wong yet, it could well undermine people’s perception toward the work the Communications Authority has been doing.”

Mok said Wong’s successor “could be anybody”, but added that it might be someone from outside the industry, in the interests of maintaining neutrality.

It is the second setback of the past few months for the Communications Authority, the agency responsible for licensing and regulating Hong Kong’s broadcasting and telecommunications industries.

In December, the Court of Final Appeal ruled the authority had overcharged telecommunications network operators for their annual licence fees.

The court’s six justices unanimously found the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development and the Communications Authority “fell into specified errors of law” in prescribing the licence fees.

That marked a significant victory for the appellant, HKT, the telecoms arm of Richard Li Tzar-kai’s PCCW, which had mounted a legal challenge against the government’s licence fees in an application for judicial review before the city’s High Court in 2013.

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Respect decisions by China’s top legislative body just as we did British authorities, Hong Kong minister urges

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Hong Kong’s transport minister was on Monday criticised for comparing China’s top legislative body with Britain’s Privy Council during a grilling in the city’s legislature over plans for a controversial cross-border rail link to the mainland.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan was also slammed by lawmakers for suggesting a Legislative Council bills committee scrutinising the plans should finish its work in just two and a half months.

The committee on Monday kicked off discussion of a bill for a contentious joint checkpoint for the high-speed rail line. The immigration and customs facility is to be based at West Kowloon in Hong Kong but shared between local and mainland Chinese authorities.

Chan said an endorsement given in December for the checkpoint from China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee should be respected, just as decisions by the Privy Council were back in colonial times.

The express rail link to Guangzhou is scheduled to begin operating in the third quarter of this year. However, opposition pan-democrat lawmakers and legal professionals in Hong Kong have blasted the arrangement, saying it diminishes the city’s autonomy by having mainland Chinese officers operate on Hong Kong soil.

Hong Kong lawmakers primed for showdown over joint checkpoint plan as 60 of 64 Legco members sign up for key committee

They have demanded the government explain how the arrangement does not breach Article 18 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which states that no national laws shall be enforced in Hong Kong unless they are added to Annexe III.

On Monday Chan said lawmakers should scrutinise the bill “rationally and pragmatically” so it could be approved by Legco before its summer recess starts in mid-July.

“For the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint, this work was done in two and a half months. If we really do this seriously and diligently, without other considerations, I believe that same time frame should be sufficient,” Chan said.

He was referring to a bill approved a decade ago to set up a joint checkpoint in Shenzhen, on the other side of the border, for the Western Corridor, a 5.5km bridge to the city opened in 2007.

Hong Kong firefighters to act first and seek clearance later in emergencies at high-speed rail joint checkpoint

Pan-democrats argued the Western Corridor case was much simpler because it did not involve applying mainland laws in Hong Kong territory.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Alice Mak Mei-kuen asked what would happen if the bill was not approved in time.

“The starting day for the railway’s operation will be postponed indefinitely,” Chan answered.

Pan-democrat legislator Raymond Chan Chi-chuen asked what the government would do if the so-called “co-location” bill was ruled unconstitutional by a local court.

Frank Chan did not respond directly to that question, but suggested people should respect the endorsement given for the checkpoint by the NPC Standing Committee, China’s top legal authority.

He said NPCSC judgments should be respected just as those by London’s Privy Council were back in Hong Kong’s days as a British colony.

Hong Kong courts can challenge government’s bid to write joint checkpoint into law, says justice minister

The Privy Council is a body of advisers to the British sovereign but also formerly acted as the High Court of Appeal for the entire British Empire.

“In those days if we filed an appeal against a decision and the Privy Council made a judgment, we would respect it,” he said. “Now, the NPCSC, if we consider it as an equivalent of the Privy Council, has also made a judgment.”

Watch: all you need to know about the Hong Kong-mainland rail link

But Raymond Chan countered that this comparison was inappropriate as Hong Kong enjoyed the power of final adjudication under current constitutional arrangements, and the city’s Court of Final Appeal was the city’s top court.

Monday’s meeting started with pro-establishment lawmakers Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan elected chairwoman and vice-chairman of the bills committee.

Ip revealed that there would be a visit on February 27 for lawmakers from both sides of the political divide to visit the West Kowloon terminal.

Hong Kong Law Society warns lack of clarity on joint rail checkpoint could undermine ‘one country, two systems’

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was asked at the meeting if she would accept a challenge from the newly elected chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Philip Dykes, to debate the merits of the checkpoint. Dykes has raised doubts about its legality.

“A debate might not be the best way to handle the matter,” Cheng said. “It would only cause opinions on both sides to become more polarised.”

The committee meeting was convened after a senior assistant legal adviser to Legco wrote to the Transport and Housing Bureau on Friday asking for clarification on 20 constitutional and legal questions related to the checkpoint bill.

Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan said it was “uncommon” for Legco’s legal service division to identify such a large number of questions on a government bill.

“It shows that co-location is not just a transport issue,” she said. “It is the biggest constitutional crisis facing Hong Kong.”

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China puts job creation on the front burner in quest for stable growth


China will boost its job creation effort and promote entrepreneurship this year, a spokeswoman for the top state planner said on Sunday, under pressure to find work for millions of unemployed people and new college graduates.

Meng Wei, from the National and Development Reform Commission, said China needed to create jobs for 9.7 million people registered as unemployed and 8.2 million new college graduates, as well as workers affected by industrial capacity cuts.

China’s urban-registered unemployment rate fell to 3.9 per cent last year and has remained generally stable despite slowing economic growth and the government forging ahead with plans to cut industrial capacity.

China’s ‘jobless rate’ hits 15-year low but flood of graduates on horizon

But many analysts say the official data is an unreliable indicator of employment conditions because it only measures employment in urban areas and does not take into account the millions of migrant workers who form the bedrock of China’s labour force.

“We will implement an employment-first strategy and more proactive employment policies … and vigorously promote employment and entrepreneurship,” Meng said, adding that protecting jobs was fundamental to China’s stable growth policy.

China to start releasing proper unemployment figures in 2018 after decades of downplaying the problem

Authorities are counting on “new growth engines” such as technology and services to support job creation.

Meng said China would create a policy environment that supported the digital economy and would promote the big data, artificial intelligence and industrial internet sectors.

The commission would also improve policies to support the growth of private firms, building on examples of successful policies from around the country, she noted.

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Usually at odds with Beijing, Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers spearhead mainland visit to see how its vision for regional growth stacks up

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Hong Kong’s opposition politicians, usually at odds with Beijing and wary of its push for cross-border integration, have taken an interest in its vision for a regional business and innovation powerhouse comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities.

They are spearheading the organisation of an upcoming visit to the mainland, to see how the Greater Bay Area development plan is shaping up.

Comprising lawmakers from across the political spectrum, the delegation is expected to be the largest group of legislators to visit the mainland since 2014.

Pan-democrats were quick to stress though that their efforts did not mean they were in full agreement with Beijing.

Pearl River Delta’s poorer cities plan big changes in ‘Greater Bay Area’ push

Kenneth Leung, who represents the accountancy sector, told the Post: “I may disagree with the central government on a number of issues, but I do think we have to know more about the Greater Bay Area from the perspective of economic and livelihood development in Hong Kong.

“[The Greater Bay Area development plan] would be a good platform for Hong Kong professional services to develop … and to demonstrate our soft power including our rule of law and incorruptibility,” Leung, who chairs the financial affairs panel in the Legislative Council, said.

Leung suggested the trip to panel members in December, and after getting support from a range of lawmakers, he went to Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, who chairs a Legco panel on economic development and is a member of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet.

Jeffrey Lam helped to put the request through to mainland officials.

Two other lawmakers also joined in as co-organisers: Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai, who leads the panel on commerce and industry, and Charles Mok, who leads the panel on information and technology.

Hong Kong needs more financial innovation to effectively tap Greater Bay Area opportunities

Although Leung said the purpose of the trip was to assess infrastructure and technology developments within the Greater Bay Area, and “no political issues” were on the agenda, he admitted that politics was the reason the trip dates would only be confirmed in the later part of next month.

The pan-democrats are locked in a tight race with the pro-establishment camp for the March 11 by-election to fill four of six seats left empty after pro-democracy lawmakers were disqualified from Legco, a result of Beijing interpreting the Basic Law to find their ways of oath-taking unconstitutional.

The disqualification left Legco with only 64 members, and tilted the balance in favour of pro-establishment legislators.

“Many pan-democrats have no mood or interest to think about what to visit in the Greater Bay Area right now,” Leung said.

Jeffrey Lam told the Post that the trip was likely to take place at the end of April, as that time frame worked better for mainland authorities.

He said officials would be busy until then, as the annual “two sessions” – meetings of China’s top legislative and consultative bodies – would take place in March and they would also need to deal with follow-up work.

Jeffrey Lam, who briefed the Hong Kong government about the trip, said either the chiefs or other high-ranking officials from four related bureaus were likely to come along for the visit, although it was not confirmed yet if they would meet any mainland officials.

The trip was tentatively scheduled to last for three days, and the delegation would travel to four or five cities and visit companies such as technology giants Tencent and Huawei, Jeffrey Lam said.

“If we are really ready to go, for sure that would be a great chance for lawmakers to know more about national development.

“[They shouldn’t] make everything political,” he added, referring to the pan-democrats.

Wu said he agreed with the visit, as it was something his panel members had requested.

“As lawmakers, we have the responsibility to learn about the development of our neighbouring region,” he said.

Pan-dems shouldn’t make everything political

Lawmaker Jeffrey Lam

The Bay Area stretches over 56,600 square kilometres, covering 11 economies that were worth US$1.36 trillion in 2016 and with an estimated population of 66.71 million.

Mok, who said he would officially consult his panel members on the trip on Monday, believed they would be keen to visit Shenzhen, named as the tech capital of China.

Pan-democrats considered hostile to Beijing were only recently able to get the home return permit – that all Hongkongers need – to cross the border, after the issue came up in a meeting between China’s No 3 leader Zhang Dejiang and four pan-democrats in the city in 2016.

Beijing’s decision was seen as a move to improve its ties with mainstream pan-democrats, while still maintaining a tough line on pro-independence advocates.

In 2014, when lawmakers were invited to Shanghai to discuss political reform with Beijing officials, amid an ongoing debate on the best way to achieve universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election, veteran activist and former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung was turned away at the border.

The Civic Party’s Kwok Ka-ki also caused a scene when he went to a local restaurant and distributed politically themed pamphlets.

Leung, also known as “Long Hair”, was finally allowed onto the mainland last April. He and five other pan-democrats were part of a delegation of 18 lawmakers who visited the Dongjiang Basin in Guangdong province to inspect the source of Hong Kong’s water supply.

Controversial firms to tackle ‘Belt and Road’ research, reveals former Hong Kong leader CY Leung

But Leung lost his Legco seat later in the year after the High Court decided he was among those who did not take their oaths of office properly.

Currently, there is still one lawmaker who is not able to enter the mainland – veteran pro-democracy lawmaker James To Kun-sun. To said he would decide whether to take part in the trip only after the itinerary was confirmed.

Localists Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Claudia Mo Man-ching made clear they had no interest in the trip, while Kwok said he was sceptical of the Greater Bay Area development scheme.

“I don’t think [the cities] could give any added value to Hong Kong’s development,” Kwok said.

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Hong Kong government’s problem is not deficits but structural surplus, say economists

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Hong Kong is set to reap a bumper budget surplus this year as experts warn of a structural surplus problem, with HK$120 billion already in the bag and the final figure likely to be just shy of HK$160 billion by the end of March, according to figures obtained by the Post.

The massive projected surplus, at least seven times the original estimate of HK$16.3 billion for 2017-18, has reignited criticism of officials’ conservative calculations, and the resultant failure to invest in things like public hospitals and helping the elderly and the young.

Experts chastised officials for taking what they called a doom-and-gloom outlook and forecasting a fiscal structural deficit by 2021. One economist said the problem was the exact opposite, with the city facing a structural surplus.

With such resources at his disposal, pressure is piling on Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to give one-off relief measures when he delivers his annual budget on February 28.

While big accounting firms had predicted that the surplus – that is, a positive difference between the government’s income and its outgoings – this year might be between HK$160 billion and HK$180 billion by the end of March 2018, a source familiar with the fiscal position predicted a final figure just below that range.

Hong Kong chief executive says city’s next budget could be ‘full of surprises’

This year’s projection would smash a record set in the last financial year, when the city reeled in a surplus of HK$92.8 billion, eight times the original estimate of HK$11.4 billion.

As of November last year, the city had a cumulative surplus for the year of HK$57.2 billion,  four times the original estimate of HK$16.3 billion for the whole of 2017-18.

The city’s fiscal reserves exceeded HK$1.7 trillion by December 31 last year.

But these surpluses all wash in against a backdrop of looming deficit, which will almost certainly come about as a result of the city’s ageing population. As the share of the population aged over 65 – and therefore not working and paying income tax – grows, the government’s revenue is likely to shrink. At the same time, the cost of caring for this growing elderly population will hit the public coffers, making surpluses a thing of the past.

Two veteran economists invited by the Post to revisit the projections made by the government’s long-term fiscal planning panel four years ago said the government’s supercharged income could delay that structural deficit for 15 years or even stop it ever becoming a problem.

Both said the government’s study failed to work in the “China factor”, which has fuelled huge rises on the Hong Kong stock market and record-high land prices in recent years.

Editorial: Balancing act appears on the cards for Hong Kong budget

“Hong Kong has been experiencing the biggest structural economic growth and it is because of China,” said Franklin Lam Fan-keung, founder of think tank HKGolden50 and a former investment bank analyst who served the government’s Central Policy Unit during the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

“But we did not feed the growth, we did not pour money into social and economic infrastructure … Offices, hotels and hospitals ended up being very expensive in Hong Kong.”

Official statistics show the average annual growth rate of the government’s revenue from 2009-10 to 2014-15 was estimated at 6.2 per cent in government budgets. Looking back, the actual growth rate was 8.5 per cent, while the corresponding figure for expenditure was 6.8 per cent.

But Lam pointed out that if the revenue growth calculation took into account one-off relief measures and various funds set aside by John Tsang Chun-wah – financial secretary for the whole period – the rate would be as high as 9.9 per cent, 3.7 percentage points higher than the original estimate.

From 2010-11, in response to unexpectedly high revenue from land premiums and stamp duty, Tsang squirrelled away lump sums ranging from HK$26 billion to HK$77 billion each year to bankroll sweeteners or designated funds to address specific public concerns, like drug abuse or housing.

In so doing, he effectively reduced the size of some annual surpluses by almost half and, in some extreme cases, by two-thirds. Including those lump sums, the government’s budget surpluses from 2010-11 to 2016-17 would almost double to at least HK$814.8 billion, from the current recorded total of HK$433.5 billion, in stark contrast with the HK$27.7 billion forecast in the government’s study.

“Yet, with so much money [to hand], the government didn’t build a new hospital or build a land bank, and elderly people’s savings have been eroded by inflation,” Lam said. He said Tsang had taken an overly frugal fiscal approach and failed to invest in opportunities to grow the economy.

Lam said the government’s long-term fiscal study projected future revenue from a starting point in 2014-15 when revenue was estimated at 19.4 per cent of GDP. But in reality, including chunks of surplus set aside deliberately, that figure was more like 24 per cent.

Will Hong Kong government’s new budget change life for low-income workers?

Based on bigger annual revenue growth, Lam’s think tank projected that the structural deficit would only emerge in 2036, even if government spending increases 3 per cent every year.

Chinese University associate professor of economics Terence Chong Tai-leung said the task force should not have predicted government revenue growth based on GDP growth, as the former is set to exceed the latter, thanks to a stamp duty windfall. The annualised growth rate of stamp duty in the past 27 years – from 1989 to 2017 – was 9.4 per cent, while annualised government revenue growth stood at 7.5 per cent.

Chong noted a recent structural change in stamp duty. He said he expected its growth to continue to expand in coming years, making the duty – paid on property and stock purchases – the biggest source of government income and further driving up its total revenue.

“The problem of structural deficit would already be resolved if the additional income from stamp duties would cover the extra expenditure triggered by the ageing issues,” he said, adding that 9.4 per cent growth in stamp duty was a very conservative estimate as policies such as the stock connect and the introduction of dual-class technology stock listings would further fuel its growth.

The city’s windfall from stamp duty is derived almost evenly from its robust property and stock markets. Special Stamp Duty and Buyers’ Stamp Duty were introduced in 2010 and 2012 respectively in a bid to curb the overheated property market.

Launched in 2014, the mainland-Hong Kong stock connect lets international and mainland Chinese investors trade securities on each other’s markets through the trading and clearing facilities of their home exchange. It has also contributed a hefty sum in stamp duty.

Lam said the daily turnover of mainland e-commerce giant Alibaba – which owns the South China Morning Post – last year would account for more than a third of daily turnover on the Hong Kong stock market if it had been allowed to list in the city. 

“Had Alibaba been allowed to list in Hong Kong, the amount of stamp duty collected by the government could have been used to waive taxpayers’ salary tax,” he said. “According to our calculations, 90 per cent of Hong Kong taxpayers could enjoy a tax holiday; those earning less than HK$65,000 a month can be exempted from paying salary tax.”

The same amount of money that the government would forfeit under such a holiday could boost recurrent spending on the overloaded local health care system by 60 per cent.

More potential could be realised if other hi-tech mainland companies like phone maker Xiaomi listed in Hong Kong, Lam said.

Professor Liu Pak-wai, a leading economist involved in the government’s long-term fiscal planning, defended the study.

“The study did forecast surpluses in the early years of the long-term projection, although the size of the surpluses in the past few years are unexpectedly massive,” he said.

More money for Hong Kong to splash out with ‘considerably high’ HK$57.2 billion budget surplus, finance chief writes

Liu said it was difficult to make a reliable forecast of land revenues, and that the property cooling measures also boosted stamp duty income.

“Government spending was also smaller than expected because of filibustering and judicial reviews,” he said, referring to delays – in the legislature and the courts – to major construction projects.

“Having said that, the study could have made some policy recommendations on how these fiscal challenges can be coped with. But we were not empowered to do so,” he said, adding that the fiscal study should be reviewed every five years.

A government spokesman said while the administration had noted the recommendations in the working group report, “they have not been and will not be constraints on government spending, which is determined with reference to the needs of Hong Kong for economic and social developments as well as our fiscal strength.”

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Hong Kong lawmakers primed for showdown over joint checkpoint plan as 60 of 64 Legco members sign up for key committee

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Legislators across Hong Kong’s political spectrum were preparing for a showdown over a controversial joint checkpoint plan for a high-speed cross-border rail link, with almost all lawmakers vying for a seat on the bills committee that will start scrutinising the proposal on Monday.

Sixty lawmakers – 24 pan-democratic and 36 pro-establishment politicians – had signed up for the pivotal panel. Only four Legislative Council members did not follow suit, it was learned on Saturday.

The committee will hold its first meeting on Monday, and atop its agenda is the election of a chairman and vice-chairman.

The Civic Party’s Tanya Chan, who also convenes a co-location concern group, said she would seek to be chairwoman. That would pit her against pro-establishment lawmakers Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan.

“Both [Ip and Cheung] are Executive Council members, and they could be biased and force lawmakers to vote by a deadline set by the government,” the pan-democrat said, referring to their duties as advisers to the city’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor. Chan added that unresolved legal questions about the plan could lead to a constitutional crisis.

Beijing’s top legislature last December endorsed the joint checkpoint arrangement, which would allow mainland immigration and customs officers to enforce national laws in a zone leased to them at West Kowloon station in Hong Kong. The link extends to the city of Guangzhou on the mainland.

Is Beijing envoy’s personal travelogue a veiled boost for joint checkpoints at Hong Kong-mainland China link

Pan-democrats and prominent legal professionals have blasted the plan as diminishing the city’s autonomy. They demand the government explain how the arrangement does not breach Article 18 of the Basic Law, which states that no national laws can be enforced in Hong Kong unless they are annexed in the mini-constitution.

With its predominant membership in the committee, the pro-establishment camp is expected to ensure that Ip and Cheung become chairwoman and vice-chairman.

“I am well-qualified for the post given my previous background in immigration and border matters,” Ip, a former security minister, said. “Whether the chairman is an Executive Council member or not, the window for legislation is limited as train services are expected to start in the third quarter.”

Ip hoped the committee would finish its review of the bill by the end of May and then put it forward for a full Legco vote.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, security minister John Lee Ka-chiu, and transport minister Frank Chan Fan will attend the Legco meeting on Monday to address questions.

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Carrie Lam ‘more willing to listen to different views’ than CY Leung, says Hong Kong lawmaker Kenneth Leung

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Hong Kong’s leader has vowed to heal wounds in a divided society and improve relations with the legislature. But how effective will Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor be?

It might be interesting for her to adopt the perspective of the lawmaker who became the “top enemy” of former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

Leung sued pan-democrat Kenneth Leung, representing the accountancy sector, in 2016 for defamation over remarks about a HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) payment that the former city leader received from an ­Australian engineering firm.

Nearly two years later, the Legislative Council member was one of three pan-democrats to support a motion thanking Lam for her maiden policy address last October.

As an advisory member under the Trade and Industry Department – appointed in January this year – Kenneth Leung joined a delegation and took part a Belt and Road forum held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last week.

“Lam is more willing to spend time listening to different opinions from various parties,” Leung said, suggesting that may come from her abundant experience in the civil service.

The lawmaker said he hoped Lam would break from what he called her predecessor’s “irrational” tendency to appoint pro-establishment figures to different advisory committees, and appoint more professionals.

But he was quick to add that the government’s way of handling the high-speed rail border checkpoints, and its bar on candidates from running the coming by-election were “unacceptable”, among other complaints he had about Lam’s tenure so far.

“I like the high-speed rail link … but you can’t sacrifice the principle of the rule of law,” Leung said.

The local government plans to allow mainland officials to enforce mainland laws in a leased section of the Hong Kong terminal of the line to Guangzhou, drawing the ire of many pro-democracy activists. Leung was also referring to the decision by an election official to bar young pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting from a Legislative Council by-election, based on her party Demosisto’s support for the city’s “self-determination”.

Carrie Lam says city’s next budget could be ‘full of surprises’

“But if you ask whether I can view every issue separately, yes, I can, as a politician.” he added. Leung said he, alongside five other lawmakers of The Professionals Guild, would oppose or support the government on a case-by-case basis.

Leung said he understood that as chief executive Lam could not provoke Beijing on certain issues. But he said safeguarding Hongkongers’ interests and rights was also a key part of her role.

So, has she achieved that?

“She hasn’t but she is trying … I would give her some more time,” he said.

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Paul Zimmerman is not without appeal


Loyalists in the legislature supposedly gave the opposition a taste of their own medicine over Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah. Using filibustering and other manoeuvres, the pro-establishment lawmakers last week scuppered an opposition plan to summon the justice secretary to Legco for another grilling over illegal structures at her luxury homes.

In reality, pan-democrats are more worried about the by-election next month, in which one of their candidates has a few long-standing issues over illegal structures at home. Dragging out the public relations disaster for Cheng and the government would only invite retaliation from the rival camp. So, in a way, rather than risking mutually assured destruction, a détente has been reached between the two camps.

City’s embattled justice chief let off the hook as pan-dems back down on illegal structures scandal

Running on the opposition ticket for a functional constituency seat, urban development activist Paul Zimmerman has confessed to having the structures at his home in Sai Kung for a decade. While Cheng claimed she knew nothing about the structures because she had been too busy at work, he knew about it all along but preferred to keep them anyway. It’s a bit ironic that he is running for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector, which has a lot to do with building construction, legal or otherwise.

But it’s pointless to debate which one of the two has done worse. It’s estimated one in four private homes have some illegal structures, so most of us are throwing stones in glass houses. Cheng has already survived two no-confidence motions, thanks to help from the loyalist camp. It’s a bit rich for the pan-dems to complain about “filibustering and dragging out” – their own Legco specialities – when the whole saga has become a sideshow.

Green light for by-election replacement for Agnes Chow but another young activist barred from contest

The opposition pretty much has a sure-win next month with its geographical constituency candidates Edward Yiu Chung-yim for the Kowloon West seat and Au Nok-hin for Hong Kong Island. But Zimmerman is running against Tony Tse Wai-chuen, an independent former lawmaker who is trying to stage a comeback and has strong support from within the professional sector.

Zimmerman, though, is not without appeal. He is politically moderate, and is primarily focused on environmentally and people-friendly urban developments. He and his associates have often come up with sensible ideas about controversial government developments such as the Central Market and harbourfront developments. But they are usually ignored. A Legco platform will give them a stronger voice.

It would also be good to have a more racially diverse Legco.

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Hundreds take to streets in Hong Kong to demand scandal-hit justice chief Teresa Cheng step down


Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday demanding that justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah step down.

The demonstrators accused Cheng of “lying” about illegal structures at her properties. They also accused her of censoring localist pan-democrat candidates in next month’s Legislative Council by-election.

The crowds shouted “Down, down Teresa Cheng” and “Secretary of Justice has no integrity” as they marched some 1.2km (about three-quarters of a mile) from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai to Justice Place in Central, where Cheng’s office is located.

City’s embattled justice chief let off the hook as pan-dems back down on illegal structures scandal

Those leading the march included former opposition lawmakers Alan Leong Kah-kit of the Civic Party and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, and Agnes Chow Ting of the localist party Demosisto.

They carried a huge banner with the slogan: “Teresa Cheng step down.”

Chow was among those whose candidacy for the coming by-election was rejected by election authorities. Cheng admitted she had been involved in the legal advice provided by the Department of Justice to returning officers on the decision to reject pan-democrat candidates’ nominations.

Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the march, estimated 1,000 people took part. Police put the turnout at 700. Front convenor Sammy Ip Chi-hin said the number was satisfactory as the Lunar New Year holiday was nearing.

Hong Kong’s rule of law is riddled with loopholes and arbitrary application

“So many people have come out to tell [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam that they do not want Teresa Cheng to be the justice secretary. Lam should fire her,” Ip said.

Cheng has been mired in controversy since assuming office early last month. She said she had been too busy so she overlooked the illegal extensions at her properties.

Lam had asked the public to be tolerant. She also said she permitted Cheng to continue handling six outstanding arbitration cases from her private practice, and that she could still continue teaching law at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Cheng survived two no-confidence motions in the Legislative Council last week with the help of pro-government legislators. A separate motion to summon her to the legislature was also blocked.

One protester said: “What have Hong Kong people done to deserve a part-time justice secretary?”

Illegal structures saga for Hong Kong’s justice chief comes to a close, as pan-dems plan to grill her fizzles out

Another said Cheng had failed to protect Hong Kong people’s interest in the disqualification saga. “Whether she stands on Beijing’s side or on the side of Hong Kong, I am not sure.”

The protesters put labels that read “Liar” or “Disqualified” on a board erected outside the Justice Place compound before they left.

Meanwhile, to mourn those killed in the bus accident in Tai Po on Saturday, protesters observed a minute’s silence before the march.

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Taiwan quake toll at 17 as rescuers call off search for victims

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Rescuers on Sunday ended their search of a Taiwan building partially toppled by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake as the last trapped pair were presumed dead, bringing the final death toll to 17.

Thousands of emergency workers had combed through rubble at the foot of the 12-storey Yun Men Tsui Ti apartment block since the quake struck the eastern county of Hualien late on Tuesday.

It was left leaning at around a 50-degree angle by the quake, complicating rescue efforts due to fears of an imminent collapse.

Hualien county chief Fu Kun-chi said the last two victims were pinned under heavy pillars that could not be removed without risking a total collapse of the building, and the rescue was called off with the consent of their relatives.

Excavators began digging through the building from the top later on Sunday to try to recover the bodies, he added.

Taiwan rescue dog ‘Iron Hero’ finds two earthquake survivors on his first mission

“Seventeen people were unfortunately killed in the earthquake … I believe their relatives will receive proper assistance,” Premier William Lai said while paying his respects to victims in Hualien on Sunday.

The last pair are believed to be members of a family from Beijing who arrived in Taiwan on Monday, authorities said.

The search and rescue operations were discontinued after the body of one of the two people who remained missing was found early on Sunday.

The body was found at 4am in the rubble, Central News Agency reported.

Rescue workers said they were unable to recover the body because it was lodged under heavy concrete pillars and beams.

The bodies of three other members of the family including a boy aged 12 were recovered on Saturday.

They were staying in a second-floor room at a hotel in the Yun Men Tsui Ti building when the quake struck.

Fourteen of the 17 people who were killed perished in the building.

Three partially collapsed buildings in Hualien are being demolished, including the local landmark Marshal Hotel where one employee was killed.

Aftershocks rattle Taiwan quake survivors as anger grows over building collapse

Fu said on Sunday domestic and overseas donations made to Hualien county government in the wake of the earthquake had reached NT$595 million (US$20.29 million), Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported. But Fu added the government estimated the total cost for resettling the homeless and reconstruction would reach NT$2 billion, and would seek more financial help from Taipei.

Hualien, on Taiwan’s picturesque east coast, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the quake-prone island.

Taiwan’s worst tremor in recent decades was a magnitude 7.6 quake in September 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.

That earthquake ushered in stricter building codes but many of Taiwan’s older buildings remain perilously vulnerable to even moderate tremors.

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