Participants in the Government Minister Deathwatch Sweepstakes are either rejoicing or mourning today. Those that had put their money on Development Secretary CK Mak have hit the jackpot, with their winnings automatically doubled – the man not only resigning from the cabinet but being picked up by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Those who thought Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim or Chief Executive CY Leung himself would be the first victims of what we can only describe as Everything-Gate will have to regain their losses with whoever’s next in line.

Bubbling up from the bewildering stew of scandals and quasi-scandals is Constitutional Affairs Secretary Raymond Tam who, in 1993, used a HK$500,000 government housing loan to buy a property from his parents. It is hard to see who the victim is here. In Mak’s case it seems clear that the taxpayer was being cheated. On the surface, he and a civil servant colleague were renting homes from each other with government housing allowances. But in reality it seems they essentially owned each other’s apartments, thus in practice paying rent to themselves, which is a no-no. (Did he bribe himself, too?) Whoever is dredging all this stuff up – and you don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to realize this isn’t all happening by accident – needs to dig deeper on Tam.

(The Standard also reports that the ICAC might finally charge the brothers Kwok and former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui today – as if clearing a backlog of high-profile cases to make room for the next batch.)

If CY Leung were as cunning and devious as we are led to believe, he would go on the offensive. The muckraking-ambush, we could postulate, originates at the level of CY-hating tycoons, or even the Beijing officials who backed Henry Tang, making full use of bureaucrats with grudges and our famously freewheeling press. Fighting back directly isn’t an option. Ideally, he would make some big populist announcements, but the longer he holds back on this, the bigger they will have to get to avoid looking contrived and defensive and thus backfiring. It’s getting to the stage where he’s leaving it too late.

A PR guru would accuse CY of reacting to events rather than controlling them. But the truth is that he isn’t even reacting. He shows no sign of panic, or even awareness that his administration looks like it’s collapsing around him. He refuses to comment because it’s ‘not appropriate’ and merrily carries on planning his next town hall meeting. It’s almost as if he is numbed by the successive shocks, as an amateur in these dark arts would be. Which suggests he is naïve: the wolf is in fact a lamb, and a slightly simple one at that. Has Jerzy Kosinsky’s Chance the Gardener turned up in Government House?

What is more likely, and certainly more in keeping with his reputed character, is that he is dismissing his tormentors as trivial compared with the important tasks ahead. Substance not style. But cabinet ministers are not ornaments. A CE does actually need some, and at the rate things are going he will run into supply problems. The pool of talent is small enough to start with; Henry’s old pals aren’t interested, Beijing has its loyalty test, and the local pro-Beijing crowd have their own reservations about many individuals.

Now, on top of all that, top officials must come completely unblemished. (Imagine what would be happening if CY’s officials had not all been through unprecedented two-hour police interviews to vet candidates for sex/drugs/money problems. The word is that not everyone passed.) One trellis, and you’re dead. No 20- or 25-year-old property deals with long-forgotten creative details allowed. Absolutely no infractions of our newfound, unattainable and almost otherworldly code of ethics can be permitted. Hardly anyone can seriously be sure of meeting this threshold of total lifelong innocence, and no-one in their right mind will volunteer to find out in full public view.

Maybe Beijing will move in and stamp out the campaign against the new administration (which it had to do on a smaller scale for CH Tung all those years ago). Another is that CY will just tough it out and win over some grudging public opinion when he starts to direct more resources to the elderly and other quarters. Several letters in the South China Morning Post in recent days have pleaded that CY deserves a chance to do his job. Some people are determined that he won’t get it.

Some light reading for the now-declared-open weekend: a learned paper on Hong Kong’s contribution to cyberpunk sci-fi cinema.

Click to hear ‘A Public Execution’ by Mouse & the Traps!

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27 Responses to Mak-down

  1. maugrim says:

    What a circus. Regina was miowing yesterday about the obvious lack of rigour in the selection process, the subtext being her own admission from Exco presumably. The Blade Runner pic is an interesting choice. In the film, people have largely abandoned the city, choosing a new life elsewhere. what’s left are the riff raff and a few robots. Given that HK was inititially a stimulus for the film’s vision, there are a number of ironies.

  2. Gazza says:

    You have been in Hong Kong too long and think prosecuting crime is muck-raking.

  3. Real Fax Paper says:

    I’ve tried a little idle googling this morning to no avail, but perhaps the assembled brain trust here can help – is there no statute of limitations or similar that would apply in Mak’s case?

    I suppose we should be grateful, though, that out of the entire civil service at the time, there were only two bad eggs who claimed rental allowance while living in their own, owned properties. All of the rest of the civil service were simply renting, right? Right? Guys?

  4. Vile says:

    I would certainly welcome anarchy and freedom from prosecution for all, but I wouldn’t start by granting amnesty to government ministers before anyone else.

  5. Caroni Ma says:

    Legions of senior civil servants are shitting their pants this morning because the cross-renting scheme is as old as the air-conditioning allowance.

  6. Mary Hinge says:

    RTP, Section 26(1)(a) of the Limitation Ordinance (CAP 347) prescribes that where the Defendant is a fraudster, the period of limitation begins only when the Plaintiff discovers the fraud.

    But hey, why are we trying to find defences for these bozos?

  7. fruity bun says:

    Should be an amnesty, just to see how many have been up the same tricks – hilarious.

    With the Kwoks etc up before the beak this afternoon, any breakthroughs in the 39 Conduit Road case by our even-handed police force?

    Things are getting entertaining.

  8. Reductio says:

    I go to work in a local company. No perks, no rent allowance, no aircon allowance, no education allowance, no company pension plan. But I like my job, my boss and my colleagues. I try to do the best I can. I pay my taxes on time.

    So the ICAC screws a few of these guys to the wall? Fine by me.

  9. Real Fax Paper says:

    Mary Hinge, thanks for that, exactly what I was looking for. (But careful with my moniker, I’m a cheap imitation)

  10. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Most important part of the Standard’s coverage:

    “Federation of Civil Service Unions chairman Leung Chau-ting said the Mak saga has soiled the clean image of the civil service and had undermined the morale of civil servants.”

    Morale possibly undermined by the fear that this is just the start of scrutiny of rorts in by civil servants?

    In any case, morale has been lowered, so a pay rise is justified. LegCo may also need to retrospectively legalise these rorts to return civil servants to their usual perky selves.

  11. Disenfranchised says:

    Nice to see an iron rice bowl broken. And finally the Kwoks and Hui have been charged. Most entertaining.

  12. Stephen says:

    It is interesting who is digging all this up and why. But it also leads to the question why these guys (and one gal) were not properly vetted prior to appointment ?

    To me it seems CY is being careless and perhaps he believes he has some aces up his sleeve guaranteed to win him a second term ? Or and more likely the electorial system will still be as rotten as now in 2017 and he’ll win regardless.

    If the economy tanks in the next few years this Government, with its bananna republic electorial system, is going to come under real strain.

  13. Big Al says:

    @Tiu Fu Fong

    You beat me to it! I’m surprised it has taken so long (i.e. hours) for civil servants’ morale to be brought into the picture. Acutally, is there anything that happens in Hong Kong that DOESN’T affect civil service morale?

    Personally, I’d like CY to enact a law to require civil servants to line up in the morning outside the building where I work so I can give them a good kicking on the way in. And then line them up again in the evening so I can give them a good kicking on the way out. This would certainly improve my morale, as well as providing me with some exercise.

  14. Iffy says:

    I wonder when all these the shenanigans will finally turn our feelings for Donald to nostalgia, as seemed to happen for Tung. On that note, I take a leaf out of (the real) RTP’s book and copy/paste from today’s SCMP this brilliant contribution to the letters section.

    # # #

    “Tsang’s critics lack proportion”

    Now that Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has stepped down as the city’s chief executive, I venture to suggest a brief description of his personality and performance in office. He brings to mind Winston Churchill’s remarks about Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain’s Labour chancellor of the exchequer from 1947 to 1950.

    Donald Tsang was (and doubtless still is) an excessively pious Catholic (Churchill on Cripps: “there but for the grace of God goes God”), an obstinate bureaucrat and an ultra-cautious politician impervious to abuse from radical elements in Legco and on the streets.

    To label him corrupt is a gross exaggeration and wrong. He was at worst an opportunist guilty only of petty freeloading and occasional hypocrisy. When cataloguing his alleged sins, Hong Kong’s immature political commentators need to show some restraint and develop a sense of proportion.

    Of Cripps, Winston Churchill said he had “all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire”. That will certainly not be posterity’s verdict on Mr Tsang but it pretty much sums up mine.

    John F. Payne, Central

  15. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Meanwhile, on some rocks far distant from China, a Chinese frigate has found itself in a spot of bother:

  16. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Fruity Bun

    My thoughts exactly re 39 Conduit Road . Wish I had put down HK$1,000 on Henderson Lee’s bet at 1000 : 1 that there was nothing fishy about the huge prices @ 39 CR

    PS @ Real Fax Paper PLAGIARIZER ! ( man ! – it took 20 attempts with spellcheck to get that word right !)

  17. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Big Al

    Here Here !

    You remind me of my mother’s wisdom on corporal punishment when rearing kids : ” beating your child may not do much to improve the behaviour of the child, but it sure makes the parent feel a lot better ”

    PS : my my … aren’t we all in good spirits today after we heard that the Kwoks x 2 + Hui have been charged . The sun is shining and the sky is blue. Tra la la la ! Next it will be the awful J Lau to be arrested in Macau . Hey ho, hey ho, it’s off to jail they go

  18. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ TFF

    🙂 🙂 🙂

    If Hui and Mak lose their pensions as a result of being successfully prosecuted by the ICAC, I hate to think what the captain of that naval vessel will lose as a result of his balls-up …….

    I just love the final sentence of the article :

    “China’s ministry of foreign affairs was not immediately available for comment”.

  19. arm bears says:

    The Mak/Tsang flat rental scam story seems to have been broken by Apple Daily, which hardly ties in with “…you don’t have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to realize this isn’t all happening by accident…” Jimmy Lai is perhaps the member of HK’s press least likely to be running planted stories for the pro-tycoon stooge lobby.

    But this is all wonderfully entertaining, even if I remain skeptical that any of these guys will ever see the inside of a cell. Getting arrested and getting convicted are very different things, especially for the rich. And even more so, because…

    … today in the smoke-filled rooms over at the Liaison Office there’s a growing realization that if the ICAC really start to hold higher officials and tycoons in HK to the standards they use on the little people, they’ll have arrest the whole Election Committee to start, and soon they won’t have enough rich toadies to maintain the illusion to Taiwan that we’re enjoying a glorious and happy “reunification” with the motherland. So they’ll soon be having a strong word with all concerned to back off sharp-ish, or else face the consequences of ending this illusion-of-democracy bullshit in favor of a proper dictatorship.

    Prepare to see normal boot-licking resume forthwith.

  20. PropertyDeveloper says:

    When do the leaks against the ICAC start? I’m surprised they’ve been allowed to get this far.

  21. Real Sax Player says:

    There’s no statute of limitations on Chinese Navy cock-ups…..they’re still moaning about the demolition of their navies by the Brits and Japanese (the latter being a particularly swift clean-up, performed in hours) in the 19th century.

  22. The Regulator says:

    The Limitation Ordinance covers civil law claims; not criminal law offences for which there is no limitation period.

  23. Walter De Havilland says:

    The ICAC don’t have a great record in getting convictions, despite some of the most draconian laws on the planet. This is a real test for their credibility. Remember a couple of their investigators recently went to jail for coaching a witness, which suggest issues of professionalism continue.

  24. Real Fax Paper says:

    RTP, plagier… plagari… copycat I may be, but let me assure you that imitation is the most sincere and, in this case, genuinely fond form of flattery. And I choose to believe the same of the saxophonist.

    The weekend, meanwhile, remains undeclared. Could somebody do the honours?

  25. Peter says:

    There really is no statute of limitations for criminal law offenses in HK???

  26. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Since the trellis-that-was-really-a-canopy was after all a Leung family addition, will we soon see a tearful Mrs CY Leung on TV?

    What with Not Real Tax Payer and all, and scourge of the HYK Carrie Lam staunchly defending the indefensible, we may yet see a Regina comeback, all being forgiven.

  27. Real Tax Payer says:

    Real Fax Paper….!
    Real Sax Player …. !!

    What next ?

    Real Maks Slayer ?

    To quote the great Tom Lehrer* who parodied Nikoloi Invanovich Lobabchevsky in one of his songs:

    “Let no-one else’s work evade your eyes,
    “Remember why the Good Lord made your eyes
    ” So plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize….
    “… but remember always to call it ‘RESEARCH’ ”

    * a few reading this will be old enough to remember Tom Lehrer. I’m thinking of re-writing his famous song “The Elements” (sung to the tune of G&S’s “I am the very model of a modern major general” ) when we get to tycoon and/or top civil servant # 128 busted by the ICAC, thus making 4 x nice 32-name stanzas:

    Something along these initial lines :

    “There’s Thomas Kwok, and Raymond Kwok, and Thomas Chan and Francis Kwan,
    And Rafael Hui, and Mak Chai- Kwong, and….many others who’ve done wrong,
    “….. etc

    PS : The Mainland version for corrupt cadres, party secretaries and judges was started several years ago and now runs to over five hundred stanzas

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