Cheng low gives high ground to pan-dems

Editorial | Mary Ma Jan 11, 2018
The scandal and outcry embroiling Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is reaching a new crescendo.

After spending less than a day at the adjoining homes of Cheng and her husband, building inspectors were able to confirm that were, indeed, a number of the illegal structures reported by the media.

Let's give investigative journalism a salute, for the media pit bulls have exposed a serious concern that people might have never found out about.

The inspectors discovered unauthorized structures, including basements, rooftop huts, a pool and canopies in the adjacent properties off Castle Peak Road in Tuen Mun.

The most incredulous of all are two large basements, each of about 540 square feet - or large enough to accommodate a grassroots family of six - under the houses. At current market value, they could be worth millions of dollars each.

It would be a headache to deal with the basements. Remember, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen had to spend a fortune to fill the void under his Kowloon Tong villa.

Cheng's house at Villa De Mer is built on a slope, and the work to fill up the underground space will be more complicated.

But, no matter how complicated, this is all but a technical issue. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pointed it out when she insisted the scandal doesn't reflect poorly on Cheng's personal integrity, and that she remains fit for her new position.

Integrity is what the whole saga is all about.

Lam was satisfied Cheng reported the incident to her - once it was raised by the media, of course - and determined that the latter hadn't tried to hide it. That's really a flimsy defense. What choice was Cheng left with after the media broke the news?

In politics, the worst thing is to wait for the media to uncover dirty laundry.

The incident has again shown the advantage of having a spouse during a political crisis. You'll recall Tang's wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, took the blame after he was up to his eyeballs in a basement scandal at the time of the 2012 chief executive election campaign.

This time, Cheng's husband, Otto Poon Lok-to, stepped forward to face the media to defend himself and his wife, repeating that they had been careless in not seeking professional opinions when acquiring the properties.

How many people would believe them? Perhaps a few gullible ones.

Not only is Cheng an experienced barrister, both she and her husband are professional engineers, and Cheng had also served as a chairwoman on the buildings appeal tribunal panel dealing with irregularities - including illegal structures.

Their public explanations so far don't add up to good common sense.

On Lam's part, she should be angry. But what else could she say in public apart from defending her new secretary? Who would seriously expect her to do a Donald Trump in his popular US television series, The Apprentice, and say: "You're fired?"

Numerous questions have remained unanswered. Had Cheng been asked to declare whether there were any illegal structures at home during the background security check that is mandatory for all senior appointments?

If so, what was her reply?

Be that as it may, perhaps out of self-interest, pan-democrats shouldn't demand Cheng's resignation. Then, they can use it as a leverage to grill the establishment over future controversial legislation - including those involving the co-location issue and Article 23 of the Basic Law.

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January 2019