SCMP Monday, November 27, 2000


Emily Lau's landed in big trouble this time - tough

Legislative councillor Emily Lau Wai-hing is an ardent practitioner of freedom of speech. Don't we know it. One can scarcely turn on a radio without hearing this most vocal of politicians tearing verbally into what she perceives as the Government's lacklustre policies.
Good on her. Like most Hong Kongers, I believe people should be free to have their say, although I disagree with Ms Lau 90 per cent of the time. The veteran politician is also a stout defender of the rule of law. She says so constantly. Once again, good on her. The rule of law is basic to our way of life, our freedoms and our hopes for the future.
But the rule of law applies to everyone. It casts its protective cloak not only over Ms Lau and her fellow democrats, but also over such folk as Jiang Enzhu, the director of Beijing's Liaison Office in Hong Kong.
Mr Jiang exercised his rights under the rule of law. Ms Lau does not seem happy with the result. It threatens to make her bankrupt. She must come up with $1.6 million, which courts have ordered her to pay Mr Jiang in legal costs. Ms Lau receives about $170,000 monthly in pay and expenses from the Legislative Council.
I feel no sympathy for Ms Lau. She is in this situation entirely out of her own determination to posture as a politician and make grandstand gestures. She has reaped what she has sown. But now Ms Lau has the temerity to hold out her hand and ask the public to cough up and pay for her foolishness.
Well, she won't get a cent from me.
To go back, briefly, in 1996 new privacy legislation came into force, and Ms Lau wrote to Xinhua demanding a copy of any files it held on her. So far, all well and good.
Xinhua did not answer within the specified 40-day deadline. It was 10 months before it said it had no files on Ms Lau. There was much legal jostling between Ms Lau, government agencies and the Secretary for Justice, Elsie Leung Oi-sie.
Ms Lau got legal advice. It cost her a nominal $1 and does not seem to have been worth the money. This led to Mr Jiang being named in a summons. There were lengthy court hearings - initiated by Ms Lau and her $1 lawyers - and Mr Jiang eventually came out on top. The courts ordered Ms Lau to pay $1.6 million in costs to Mr Jiang. If she cannot pay, she could be declared bankrupt. A bankrupt cannot be a legislator.
Ms Lau expects sympathy for a situation that is solely of her own making. She promotes herself as a self-appointed champion of the people in a futile and pointless gesture to reap political gain, takes advice that seems worse than useless, and ends up in trouble. Now we are expected to bail out this self-manufactured martyr.
Sorry, Emily.
This is not the first time Ms Lau has sought others to fund her political agenda. From 1989 to 1991, when she was still a humble reporter, Ms Lau was the energetic and forceful chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association - a position which she shrewdly used as a springboard to public life.
During her tenure, Ms Lau jetted off to New York to a United Nations hearing on human rights. This had nothing to do with looking after the welfare of journalists in Hong Kong, and as a paid-up member, I protested to the association about misuse of my annual subscription.
This protest was ignored. In the eyes of her media admirers, Ms Lau can do little wrong. If she wants to attend such meetings, of course she is free to do so, but I object when I am expected to foot some of the bill.
Just as I reject the notion that the public should be asked to fund her legal costs for what was nothing more than a political stunt that backfired.
Kevin Sinclair ( ) is a Hong Kong-based journalist.