The resignation of a communications regulator over undeclared shares in a phone company does not mean Hong Kong’s embattled justice secretary should have quit over illegal structures at her home, the city’s leader said on Tuesday.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said there was “no need for such unnecessary association”.
Her remarks came as a survey showed Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s popularity was lower than for any justice secretary in 17 years.
Huen Wong resigned as Communications Authority chairman on Friday over his failure to disclose stock he owned, including shares in China Mobile, a major telecoms company. Comparisons were quickly drawn between Wong’s predicament and Cheng’s.
Cheng was found to have 10 illegal structures – including a basement and a rooftop glass house – at her three-storey Tuen Mun home as she took the helm as justice secretary last month. She later revealed three illegal structures at her other property in Southern district. She dismissed calls to resign.
Lam on Tuesday rejected the idea that Wong’s departure indicated Cheng should have resigned too. She said: “I received [Wong’s] resignation last Friday, understood the circumstances and respected his decision. But I think the case is not entirely the same as the case with the secretary for justice.
“There is no need for such unnecessary association.”
Too devoted to public service to forget private business? Lam says it’s possible in defence of Cheng
Lam said Cheng – who eventually survived a no-confidence motion with the help of pro-establishment legislators – had already handled the case and settled down in her job to deal with a lot of different tasks at her department.
She said she was open to strengthening the systems for declaring interests if necessary. Civil servants, she said, should take the initiative in future by reminding members joining the authority to take a good look at their assets, due to the sensitivity of broadcasting policies. The authority, which is now looking for a new chairman, regulates broadcasting and telecoms in the city.
Wong, a former president of the Law Society, resigned on Friday with immediate effect.
He said his “inadvertent” omission had not affected the authority’s work and had not caused any conflict of interest, but that it was incumbent upon him to follow the rules.
Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan praised Wong’s “responsible” decision, saying it was in line with the expectation Hongkongers have of officials, and stood in stark contrast to Cheng’s lack of a resignation.
Cheng’s woes have still not entirely faded. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Sunday demanding she step down, accusing her of lying about the illegal structures and of vetting pro-democracy lawmakers for next month’s Legislative Council by-election.
A survey by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme found Cheng’s support rating stood at 34.1 marks out of 100, with an approval rate of 19 per cent and disapproval rate of 48 per cent. It polled 1,001 Hongkongers between February 1 and 6.
Both her rating and her net approval rate – the difference between the approval rate and disapproval rate, which stood at -29 percentage points – were at record lows for justice secretaries since the polls began in 2001. Cheng’s performance could be rated “mediocre”, according to the pollsters’ standards.