Henry Ho : Loyalty matters, especially in the realm of public service

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Loyalty is the basis of all social relationships. Without a certain minimum level of trust, no human relationships can survive, be it friendship, marriage or employment. Put in economic terms, the transaction costs would be way too high if everyone acted in his or her own self-interest without any regulation, to which trust is an indispensable element.

In the public service arena, loyalty matters even more. Every government, including the executive, legislature and judiciary, rules a place under what we call a social contract, which empowers the government to impose taxes while utilizing public resources for the common good of the population. Not only do they take taxpayers’ money, but they also have moral obligations to serve the population sincerely, without fear or favor. Unfortunately, these obligations have not been respected or even fulfilled by many opposition members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in recent years.

Loyalty is hard to measure or assess in every situation, hence we have an oath-taking mechanism in both religious and non-religious societies. Public officers take oaths and pledge allegiance to their country and its people. Oath-taking is ceremonial and it is always difficult to prove whether someone acts against the oath. However, it doesn’t mean that public officers who violate the oath and even endanger national security should receive no punishment.

In this respect, the recent decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress is filling the loopholes of the local legal framework, where there is no clear-cut legislation defining what constitutes a violation of oath by public officers under Article 104 of the Basic Law. The decision specifies four acts: support of Hong Kong independence; refusal to recognize the People’s Republic of China’s sovereignty and exercise of such over Hong Kong; soliciting intervention by foreign or external forces in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s affairs; and engaging in other activities endangering national security.

Serving LegCo members will be immediately disqualified if they are found, in accordance with law, to have committed any of those acts, and the nomination of potential candidates for office will be invalidated if they commit one of the above acts.

The Hong Kong government disqualified four incumbent LegCo members following the decision.

No reasonable person would argue that committing any of the above-mentioned acts is consistent with one’s oath — upholding Hong Kong’s Basic Law and pledging allegiance to the HKSAR of the PRC. Besides, these acts are not difficult to define. Criticisms of government policies clearly do not belong to this category, nor does the supervision of the performance of government officials, both of which are the basic obligations of every legislative body in the world, including the NPC.

Therefore, the allegations against the central and SAR governments, propagated by politicians of the opposition camp and overseas governments, are simply ungrounded. Elected politicians are not privileged to put themselves above the law. The four disqualified members were among those who signed a letter in September 2019 to United States legislators supporting the imposition of sanctions on the HKSAR, including the so-called “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”. This formed the basis for invalidation of their nominations by the returning officers in July as the candidates were deemed to be not genuinely upholding the Basic Law and honoring their pledges of allegiance. The continuation of performing duties in LegCo by those confirmed to be not upholding the Basic Law was clearly inappropriate. This has nothing to do with “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy” or “damaging Hong Kong’s democracy”.

The NPCSC decision, which carries legislative effect according to China’s Constitution, laid down clear guidelines and criteria for deciding whether a nominee or a LegCo member upholds the Basic Law and honors their pledges of allegiance to the HKSAR. The clarification, which is legally binding, has set up standards for both the returning officers and potential LegCo candidates to follow.

The decision laid down general principles of criteria in disqualifying nominees and members of LegCo. It remains the duty of the HKSAR government to implement the decision as well as the Interpretation of Article 104 in 2016 via local legislation. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor mentioned that the government will expedite the process and submit the bill for LegCo scrutiny in the near future, which should be welcomed.

The resignations of 15 LegCo members in response to the disqualification move were clearly irresponsible. Elected politicians are accountable to both Hong Kong and their constituents. This is the essence of democracy. In the past few years, indiscriminate use of filibustering, head counting and even violence to paralyze the functions of the LegCo have aroused strong public anger. Any responsible politician should seize every opportunity to serve his or her constituents. Resignations en masse will adversely affect the services to the general public, in particular the grassroots.

The opposition parties, also known as the “pan-democrat” camp, were not born troublemakers. Initially, many of them used to criticize public policies and organize protests against the government largely within the bounds of law. Unfortunately, things have changed dramatically in the last decade and civilized political culture has been replaced by extremist and even separatist politicking, including violent actions and jaw-dropping stunts that frequently paralyzed LegCo.

Ironically, with the absence of around one-third of its members, the efficiency of LegCo is expected to be greatly enhanced in the coming year. Decency and rational debate of public policy will return. Government officials and LegCo members will be free from verbal and physical abuse. Security officers will be able to perform their duties without fear of being injured by violent LegCo members.

It is common sense that lawmakers must be law-abiding. Let’s hope that common sense will replace nonsense in the coming year, and that LegCo will operate in an orderly and civilized manner, thereby regaining its dignity and the appreciation from the people of Hong Kong.

Original from: China Daily. (Nov 23, 2020)

The author is the founder and chairman of One Country Two Systems Youth Forum.