SCMP Thursday, September 7, 2000


Uneasy compromise

By accepting the resignation of vice-chancellor Professor Cheng Yiu-chung, the council of the University of Hong Kong managed to avoid reaching a decision on the report of an investigation into political interference with Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu's polling work. Sighs of relief must have echoed around the hall when Professor Cheng finally volunteered to fall on his sword.
Although he continues to reject the investigation panel's findings, the professor's gesture gave the council its get-out clause of "noting" the report rather than endorsing it. On one level, that offers the easiest and kindest solution to the troubles of the past two months. But it dodges the vital issues, and there will certainly be some public dissatisfaction at what is clearly a trade-off to save face in higher circles.
As council chairman Yang Ti Liang acknowledged after the meeting, the resignation removed the need for Professor Cheng to seek a judicial review of the case, thus allowing staff and students to put the matter behind them and move forward. But two hurdles remain before there can be any certainty of peace on the campus. First, the situation has to be accepted by the students. Second, the next Legislative Council has to agree to let the matter rest.
Professor Cheng has taken the honourable course in the wider interests of the university, and deserves credit for that. But it was certainly the interests of the Chief Executive's Office that the council had in mind when it took the course it did. To accept the report would be to accept the verdict that Tung Chee-hwa's senior special assistant Andrew Lo Cheung-on attempted to derail Dr Chung's opinion polls and that he was an untruthful witness.
Setting up a panel only to neutralise its findings is a bit irrational. The proper course would be to accept the report and let witnesses who reject the verdict seek redress through the courts. Though the council ducked the question, the public will still be asking whether Mr Lo - honourable though he may be - is qualified for the job he holds.