SCMP Saturday, June 24, 2000

Housing duo must stay: Tung


Tung Chee-hwa vowed yesterday that embattled housing chiefs Rosanna Wong Yick-ming and Tony Miller would remain in their posts, warning of a vacuum if they were to resign.

Days before a Legco no-confidence vote in the Housing Authority chairwoman and the Director of Housing, Mr Tung said resignations were not the right solution to the deep-seated problems in public housing.

The comments added more heat to the controversy, sparked by a series of piling scandals in public housing projects. Legislators argue that Ms Wong and Mr Miller should resign to take responsibility.

But Mr Tung, speaking at the Legislative Council's question time, offered a robust defence of the pair. His voice raised, Mr Tung said: "If they were to leave at this critical time, it could result in the emergence of an administrative and legal vacuum in the senior management. What's more - Ms Wong has offered to resign many times. I have managed to keep her on. Amid so much pressure, she may offer to resign again and I may not necessarily be able to retain her."

He acknowledged Ms Wong and Mr Miller were accountable for the spate of scandals, which he described as mistakes made possible by the authority's enormous workload. "In fact, they have accepted such a responsibility and have apologised along with other Housing Authority members to the public."

But he said the responsibility did not lie solely with the two. "From a constitutional point of view, as the SAR Chief Executive, I also have to be accountable."

Aides from Mr Tung's office lost no time telephoning lawmakers after the session to ask whether Mr Tung's remarks had helped swing opinion on the no-confidence motion, to be discussed in the Legco meeting which begins on Monday.

Last night, Democrat Fred Li Wah-ming, who is sponsoring the motion, was less optimistic than earlier in the week, when he said it had a 60 per cent chance of success. He said some members who had indicated support appeared to be having a rethink. Others were noncommittal. "I think the chances are high that my motion will not pass."

He said Mr Tung had given some members an excuse to "get out of the predicament gracefully" by announcing the setting up of a commission headed by Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang to study how to streamline the housing policy structure.

Non-affiliated Bernard Charnwut Chan, who had said he would support the motion, said last night: "I will consider backing off a little if the public, especially professionals, have got the message that it's not the case no one has to be held accountable." Engineer Raymond Ho Chung-tai said he would vote in accordance with his constituents' views.

Three of the 10 Liberal Party legislators have yet to declare their stance, even though chairman James Tien Pei-chun has said his party will support the motion. The three are Ho Sai-chu, Ronald Arculli and Lau Wong-fat. Party vice-chairman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee will abstain because her husband Joseph Chow Ming-kuen is a former authority building committee member.

The other major parties said they would vote in favour of the motion. Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming said it was unfair to the legislature for Mr Tung to declare before the debate his intention to keep the pair. "The way he puts it was that the two of them are simply indispensable."

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong chairman Tsang Yok-sing said: "Simply telling us another body will be set up is not enough. We would like to see concrete steps as to what kind of reform will be in place and also its timetable."

Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said it was "nonsense" for Mr Tung to say there would be a legal and administrative vacuum if Ms Wong and Mr Miller quit.

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who has yet to decide on her vote, said Mr Tung's argument was not convincing. A vote of no-confidence did not necessarily result in resignation. It was up to the administration to consider the possible political price it would pay to keep them, she said.

She also disagreed that Mr Miller should not be required to take political responsibility because he was a civil servant. Senior civil servants were performing a political role in formulating and implementing policies.

Mr Tung told legislators Mr Miller was not a political appointee. "Unless there was evidence to show that his conduct was inappropriate or that his act violated disciplines, his public office would not be affected," he said.