SCMP Thursday, August 17, 2000

Don changes stance on Tung

ANGELA LI and NG KANG-CHUNG


The head of the University of Hong Kong said yesterday he had never told two senior aides that Tung Chee-hwa had expressed concerns over opinion polls conducted by Robert Chung Ting-yiu.

Professor Cheng Yiu-chung's comments were in sharp contrast to the testimony he gave on Tuesday, when the vice-chancellor told the inquiry investigating alleged government interference in academic opinion polls that he had "no recollection" of whether he passed on such a message to pro-vice-chancellor Professor Cheng Kai-ming and colleague Professor Felice Lieh-Mak at a meeting on May 11 last year.

Both of them said he did, and Professor Lieh-Mak considered this was "political pressure" on the university.

Controversy flared when the South China Morning Post published an article by Dr Chung, head of the university's Public Opinion Programme, on July 7, saying pressure had been put on him to stop conducting polls on Mr Tung's popularity and the Government's credibility because Mr Tung did not like them.

Continuing his testimony on the eighth day of the hearing, Professor Cheng paused briefly when he was asked categorically by the inquiry panel's lawyer whether he had forgotten making the remarks to the two academics or had never made them. "I can say definitely I have never told them such . . . If I have no recollection, how can I tell them? I cannot possibly tell them something which I have never heard. So therefore I can recall that I never told them this," he said.

Professor Cheng said neither Dr Chung nor his Public Opinion Programme had been mentioned at three meetings he had had with Mr Tung since he became Chief Executive. He said the meetings were always on "broad issues" such as technology.

Sharing Professor Cheng Kai-ming's observation about the university being marginalised, the vice-chancellor said: "I do have this observation that we, Hong Kong U, are not as much represented as we hope we should be [on newly established government-appointed committees]." But despite having met Mr Tung on March 13 last year, he said he did not raise this issue.

In the afternoon session yesterday, Alan Hoo SC, for the Chief Executive's special assistant, Andrew Lo Cheung-on, said Mr Lo had not initiated discussion on the "monitoring" aspect of the opinion polls during his meeting with the vice-chancellor.

Mr Lo's version of the meeting, made in a statement before the hearing, was presented by Mr Hoo as he cross-examined the vice-chancellor. On most areas put to him by Mr Hoo, the vice-chancellor said he could not clearly recollect details.

The January 6 meeting last year was arranged before the Christmas holiday in 1998. And it was when the vice-chancellor telephoned Mr Lo two days before the meeting to ask what he wanted to discuss that Mr Lo proposed talking about public opinion polls, according to Mr Hoo.

This had prompted the vice-chancellor to ask Dr Chung to submit material about his polls "as a matter of urgency". The vice-chancellor told the inquiry he had asked Dr Chung for documents to identify polls commissioned by outsiders and those initiated by Dr Chung's centre.

He said he had wanted the material because he thought Mr Lo might want to commission Dr Chung's unit to do polls.

At the meeting, Mr Lo asked the vice-chancellor if the polls were conducted by Dr Chung in his personal capacity or if they were the university's official surveys. He was told the polls were done under the name of the Social Sciences Research Centre, unrelated to the university.

Mr Lo claimed he was "confused" by the vice-chancellor's answer and asked how it could not be connected with the university because the centre was part of the university.

"It was from this further query, arising from his confusion, that you then explained to [Mr Lo] very emphatically that the work done by Dr Robert Chung was not a matter which is monitored by the university," Mr Hoo said to Professor Cheng, who replied: "That is correct."

Mr Lo showed up for the first time yesterday and was waiting in a room next to the hall where the hearing is being held.