Thursday, November 7, 2013, 09:14
ExCo confidentiality must be upheld: lawmakers
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Pro-establishment lawmakers kept up the attack on the opposition’s role in the television licensing controversy on Wednesday, warning that any attempt to force the Executive Council (ExCo) to reveal details of its discussions would be a serious violation of its confidentiality rule.

In their opinion, the matter should be settled amicably through the courts instead of invoking the Legislative Council’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance.

Leading the attack in the Legislative Council, Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), and Ng Leung-sing, representing the finance constituency, expressed concern over the potential damage to the ExCo’s confidentiality rule if the opposition succeeds in its attempt.

Ng said the confidentiality rule has been one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s public administration. If lawmakers are allowed access to the ExCo’s confidential documents, executive councilors would be reluctant to speak freely at future meetings, thus crippling its advisory functions.

ExCo member and former security chief, Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People’s Party stressed the importance of upholding the confidentiality rule.

She said it would be “rubbing salt to the wound” if the government is forced to explain why an application for a television license was rejected.

The opposition has been trying to force the government to reveal why it denied Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) a free-to-air license by tabling a motion to invoke the Powers and Privileges Ordinance. But, the motion looks set to be defeated when it’s put to the vote in LegCo on Thursday with crucial support for the bid uncertain.

All seven lawmakers from the Business and Professional Alliance of Hong Kong have decided to vote against the motion, warning that any interference in ExCo’s decisions would sour relations between the ExCo and the legislature.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung made a last-ditch attempt on Wednesday to persuade lawmakers to vote down the motion, arguing that ExCo had not relied solely on a consultancy’s report in making an “overall judgment” on the granting of television licenses.

The original motion, tabled by Charles Mok Nai-kwong, seeks to obtain “all the relevant papers, books, records or documents” involved in the processing of free TV license applications after HKTV had its application rejected last month.

However, an amendment tabled by Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, representing the legal profession, stands a slim chance of being passed.

Kwok’s motion, with the full support of the opposition camp, has been assured of

majority backing from the 35 geographical constituency members, but it still needs at least three more votes from the functional constituencies to sail through.

By press time on Wednesday, Chan Kin-por of the insurance sector, Poon Siu-ping of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions, and Tse Wai-chuen of the architectural, surveying and planning constituency had yet to make up their minds.

Kwok’s amendment has received support from his pro-establishment counterparts for ruling out “deliberations and relevant records of the Executive Council and any confidential commercial information involving the license applicants.”

But, Gregory So called the amendment “practically meaningless,” saying that any documents related to the issuing of TV licenses would have been received by the ExCo for consideration.

Commenting on HKTV’s threat to disclose details of four consultant reports rumored to have rated the station favorably against its rivals, So stressed that ExCo had not adopted what he called one-sided views into account, such as those of the consultants.

“The assessment itself was based on objective criteria. Different people may come to different conclusions as they have different concerns and emphasis, and they may weigh the criterion differently,” he said.

So reiterated that the ExCo respects the public’s diverse views. “But the presence of different viewpoints and perspectives could not dismiss the fact that the rationale of this decision had been objective and reasonable.”

Both Regina Ip and ExCo convenor, Lam Woon-kwong, agreed that the city’s courts offer a fairer arena for evaluation. Ip added that the LegCo probe would be equally costly, while Lam maintained that the judicial process would promise a fair review.