More trouble for lawmakers’ bid to extend Hong Kong anti-bribery laws to govern chief executive

Tony Cheung
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More trouble for lawmakers’ bid to extend Hong Kong anti-bribery laws to govern chief executive

The pro-democracy camp’s campaign to extend Hong Kong ’s anti-bribery laws to include the chief executive has suffered another setback, with government officials saying lawmakers have no power to propose such an amendment.

Dennis Kwok, a Civic Party lawmaker and a long-time an advocate of the plan, said on Monday that a top administration official had advised the Legislative Council that it was “not appropriate” for a Legco panel to proceed with a discussion of the bill.

Calls to amend the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance emerged in 2012, when Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the chief executive at the time, faced allegations of accepting bribes from a businessman. The ordinance, as it stands, cannot be used to prosecute the city’s chief executive.

A special committee chaired by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang later recommended that the law be revised and an independent committee be tasked with reviewing bribery cases concerning the city’s leaders.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised Hongkongers before being elected in 2017 that she would strengthen corruption laws to combat possible graft by a chief executive.

The Post understands that a few months after taking office, Lam shared her plan with central government officials overseeing Hong Kong and was informed that Beijing was against the idea.

Kwok, who represents the legal sector at Legco, put forward a private member’s bill to amend the bribery ordinance in 2017. But Kwok’s bill has not been debated by Legco for about two years.

In January, Kwok wrote to Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, chairman of the Legco’s constitutional affairs panel, asking for a discussion on the bill this month. The panel then asked for the government’s advice on the matter.

In a written response dated March 13, Deputy Director of Administration Bobby Cheng Kam-wing said that under Article 74 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, lawmakers can only introduce bills that do not relate to public expenditure, political structure or the operation of the government.

“The written consent of the chief executive shall be required before bills relating to government policies are introduced,” wrote Cheng, on behalf of Director of Administration Kitty Choi Kit-yu.

Cheng said Kwok’s bill would likely require the establishment of a new statutory body and a new set of administrative procedures. He said the administrative support needed for these additions would likely mean extra public expenditure.

“The government is thus of the preliminary view that the bill would have substantial effect on political structure, public expenditure, operation of the government and existing government policies within the meaning of Article 74 of the Basic Law,” he said.

“Having regard to the above, we do not consider it appropriate putting [Kwok’s] bill for discussion at the panel at this stage.”

Beijing rejects Hong Kong leader’s plan to strengthen anti-corruption laws that would target gifts for the chief executive

But Kwok said on Monday that the government was just dragging its feet on the matter.

“We are simply extending the law of bribery and corruption to the chief executive. There can’t be any change in political structure, and there are certainly no extra administrative expenses involved in doing so. So we do not think Article 74 is an excuse,” he said.

“The government has been studying this matter for over seven years now. I mean, I think they can write a book on this subject with seven years’ time.”

Kwok said he would call for a debate on the bill at a full Legco meeting.

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