Thus Hong Kong’s latest mega-scandal is born. Dinnergate.
The story in a nutshell: former Independent Commission Against Corruption boss Timothy Tong allegedly misused public funds by treating himself, various contacts – notably Mainland officials – and a few friends to meals and various gifts. He also spent a good three or four times more on overseas trips than his predecessor and successor.
The beneficiaries were more or less the sort of people you would expect the anti-graft chief to see, and the gifts themselves were borderline insulting. For example, the Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate got a crappy digital photo frame. So the dinners are what we’re really getting worked up about.
His girlfriend and former colleague Helen Chan, who some may consider looks hot in uniform, was at some of the meals (and says Tong paid for them himself). There’s lots of stuff about how he turned up to the office late and, when he wasn’t brewing herbal medicine, snoozed in the afternoons. Mainly, though it’s about wining, dining and flattering – with such items as grotesquely expensive cookies – Mainland officials and institutions. The Democratic Party’s Emily Lau is getting onto the case, and even the pro-establishment Standard’s editorial declares that “she should be pardoned for screaming her head off” over the affair.
The reason for all this is the suspicion that Tong was buttering up these people to get himself appointed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, which he did indeed join after leaving the ICAC last year. High-minded persons would see something not a million miles from bribery in such a quid pro quo. Skeptics and cynics, on the other hand, may think anyone lobbying to get into the pointless and powerless group of retired shoe-shiners is not so much corrupt as deeply pathetic.
I would love to believe that this is all an image-raising PR stunt by the fusty old CPPCC to make us think the advisory body is so cool that people will offer backhanders to get in. Alternatively, and perhaps a tad more probably, this is part of the ongoing feuding between different parts of the Hong Kong establishment. Most likely, however, the leaks to the press are not much more than spiteful revenge by one or more of career civil servant Tong’s former underlings or peers. I myself recently received some tittle-tattle about ex-bureaucrat CK Mak of Housing-Allowance-Gate fame, which naturally I will keep to myself. (Well, OK, since it’s a Friday. Would you believe he got a minion to sneak round his department and snitch on people who came into the office late? I wouldn’t. Not a word of it.)
We might look at the Hong Kong civil service and think: “Wow, what a well-oiled, smooth-running, hyper-professional and flawless team of selfless, gifted administrators, all dedicated to serving the community.” But actually, it’s a seething nest of jealous, empire-building, backstabbing and venomous invertebrates who develop such a sense of entitlement that they use our tax dollars to buy digital picture frames. And some of them have long, festering memories about real or imagined past slights in the office.
So that’s it. I declare the weekend open with Hong Kong’s latest outbreak of high crimes and misdemeanors in public office. It’s not Bo Xilai, but it’s the best we can do.