Defending the rule of law

Updated: 2014-08-18 07:44

By Zhou Bajun(China Daily)

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Rules on political donations in HKSAR need to be tightened to require political organizations to declare the funds they get

Recently, local media revealed documents which showed that Next Media Chairman Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has maintained close ties with right-wing politicians in the United States. They also showed that Lai has continuously given financial support to the opposition camp. He gave the "Occupy Central" campaign about HK$3.5 million ($451,591) to help them hold their contrived online vote last month. Lai also paid for some of the Occupy organizers to visit Taiwan to meet "Taiwan independence" activists. The documents include e-mail messages from Lai's top aide Mark Simon and others, as well as copies of receipts of money transfers. Clearly, the "opposition" maintains relationships with foreign powers who want to destabilize China.

But the opposition camp still insists it has done nothing illegal according to Hong Kong law. Some opposition politicians argue that because Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city with close ties to the West, it is normal for Hongkongers to have such contacts with foreigners.

The opposition camp has always consistently challenged the rule of law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Consequently, more effective measures are needed to safeguard the rule of law. These should start by focusing on the Legislative Council. New legislation needs to be introduced to improve the financial transparency of the Legislative Council.

First, regulations on donations for political organizations should be tightened. Take the case of lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who heads the Labour Party. Lee kept a large donation from Lai in his personal bank account for nine months before transferring it to the party's bank account. This occurred shortly after the secret donations came to light. Radical lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, who is a co-founder of the League of Social Democrats, has admitted to receiving sizeable donations from Lai in recent years. But Leung, also known as "Long Hair", insisted this was to pay his legal expenses and those of his party. All this raises a very serious question: Do such donations constitute benefits for lawmakers and do the rules require they declare them?

The existing rules for declaring donations cover individuals rather than political organizations. Unless tougher regulations are introduced, the opposition camp will continue to avoid disclosing where they obtain their funding. Along with their irresponsible behavior, such as filibustering against government funding bills, their secrecy over donations is hurting the integrity of the Legislative Council.

Second, the line between lawful and unlawful behavior must be clarified. Some opposition lawmakers from the Civic Party and Democratic Party still deny having received donations from Lai. Supporters of opposition politicians are now expressing their concern about this. Commentator Michael Chugani noted in an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post on Aug 6 that: "White terror is all around us. It has happened not only to Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convener of the Alliance for True Democracy; Tony Tsoi Tung-ho, founder of the now defunct House News website, and all the pan-democrats who received generous political donations from Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying."

As far as opposition-leaning academic Joseph Cheng is concerned, he failed to inform the Immigration Department that he is now a foreign citizen. This was long after he obtained Australian citizenship. Cheng also apparently plagiarized material from a fellow academic's research. He is not only a person of questionable character, but clearly one who does not respect the law. Of course this partly explains why he is one of the founders of Occupy Central.

The closure of the House News website had nothing to do with political pressure. Its major stakeholder, Tony Tsoi, has openly admitted the website ran out of cash. But talk show host and current affairs commentator Albert Cheng came to a different conclusion. Cheng claimed in his column in the South China Morning Post on August 7: "House News' closure shows Beijing's desire for control of Hong Kong media." Cheng knew Tsoi's team used to provide editorial services to Apple Daily, managing a page of the business section of the newspaper for a fee. This was the main source of income for the website. Cheng also knew the service contract between Tsoi's team and Apple Daily had fallen to just one day a week. Somehow, he was convinced that Tsoi "could have approached potential buyers before going under". He, therefore, assumed money was not the key reason for the website closing down. So without any evidence, Cheng said in his column, "The real cause of death is obviously political."

Tsoi tried to make Cheng's accusation believable by saying in a statement: "As a businessman who frequently travels to and from the mainland, I have to admit that I felt very scared every time I crossed the border."

Why would he feel scared - unless he has done something wrong?

Tsoi was among the first 10 professionals to say he would join "Occupy". Now everybody knows Occupy Central is an illegal movement. Its organizers said from the start that it was a political "nuclear device" capable of paralyzing Hong Kong's financial business hub. The aim is to pressure Beijing into meeting the opposition's demands. This will of course be at the expense of many businesses and workers in Central. So who is really spreading "white terror"?

The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.