Chief Executive Carrie Lam has asked lawmakers not to say Hong Kong is a corrupt city, in order to protect how it is perceived internationally.
Legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said Hong Kong’s position in the Freedom from Corruption Index had been dropping in recent years. At a question and answer session with Lam at the Legislative Council on Thursday, he said that international perception was an important factor in the index.
Kwok said Lam had failed to give a timeline with regards to amending the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance so that certain provisions will apply to the chief executive. Lam said in her policy address that she intended to work on the matter.
Lam said the amendment can only be made if relevant constitutional and legal issues are resolved: “I cannot simply give you a timetable.”
She added that the commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption had told her that perception was a factor in corruption indices: “The commissioner often visits the major rating organisations in person throughout the years to improve their understanding of Hong Kong’s freedom from corruption,” she said. “One of the major organisations has also been invited to Hong Kong to visit.”
“But I hope all lawmakers, especially the non-pro-establishment ones – since perception is so important – [know that] if you say at will that Hong Kong is a very corrupt place, it will of course affect how the international community views us.”
But Kwok said the international community will also look at objective factors such as how leaders are monitored by the law: “If they see a former chief executive was investigated for criminal matters, then of course they won’t feel Hong Kong is free from corruption – this is not difficult logic,” he said.
The 2016 Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom stated that Hong Kong’s “freedom from corruption” rating had declined over four years. It fell from a score of 84 out of 100 to 74.
‘I pray for Hong Kong every day’
In August, three major protest leaders – Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow – were jailed after the government won a review of their sentences. 13 activists were jailed days before them for another protests.
On Friday, a court will also hand down its ruling on a case of criminal contempt of court involving democracy activists – including Wong and Lester Shum – during the clearance of the Mong Kok Occupy protest site in 2014.
Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui asked Lam how she felt about the imprisonment of more and more young people: “They lost their their future, their studies, their freedom for land justice, for the development of democracy,” Hui said. “Are you so cold-blooded that you just ignore all these? What do you think they did wrong?”
Lam said Hong Kong is a society of rule of law and her duty is to defend it.
“If there are illegal actions, there must be enforcement of the law, prosecution, [and for it] to be handled by the courts. Hong Kong’s judiciary is completely independent,” she said, adding that appeals can be filed.
“I do not hope lawmakers will spread a message of achieving justice by breaking the law – the end does not justify the means, there are rules in society – one cannot break the law for an ideal they believe in,” she added.
Hui said Lam did not reflect Hong Kong people’s call for democracy in her policy address: “Do you think you have the responsibility to do more about the call for democracy with this generation of young people?”
Lam, a Catholic, said: “I pray for Hong Kong every day, especially for Hong Kong’s young people, in the hope and my expectation that they will become citizens who have a sense of national identity, love for Hong Kong, [and] an international vision and responsibility.”