Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
Donald Tsang is a character of legend. Yet, his story is more a tragedy than it is a morality tale. The Hong Kong lad born to a strict police father, raised in a relentless Jesuit school. He had a stellar career that saw him rise to the top of the pile and he threw it away on petty greed. Serving a 20-months jail term for misconduct in public office, he now sits in a tiny cell. His reputation in tatters. The former Chief Executive, saviour of Hong Kong’s economy has had a fall from grace of epic portions. But why?
By all accounts, Donald was good at what he did. As District Officer Shatin, he proved an able administrator in the colonial mode. Keeping the locals appeased, whilst steering various government initiatives through to successful conclusion. The new town was undergoing a period of rapid growth. It needed a deft hand, which Donald provided.
A spell with the Asian Development Bank affirmed his status as a flyer. Held in high regard, next came the monumental task of implementing the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Again, he excelled. By 1995 he was Financial Secretary. The retreating British, in the closing moment of colonial rule, had Prince Charles dab his shoulders with a sword. “Arise Sir Donald”.
This bauble presented by the most fatuous member of the House of Windsor gave an insight that marked the true Donald. He’d insist on being ‘Sir Donald’ and woe betide any feckless member of staff who forgot it. Then when the hapless TUNG Chi-wah stood aside as Chief Executive in 2005, Donald took the job. He immediately moved into Government House, where he spent $300,000-HK building himself a fish pond. When asked the merits of keeping fish he replied: “They don’t answer back”.
With memories of rampant corruption still fresh in the minds of folks, Donald fronted the campaign for clean governance. Lambasting civil servants to maintain the highest standards. The advice he should have taken himself.
In 2009 he stood accused of implementing initiatives that favoured his family members. This ignited a war of words with the media. A truculent Tsang did not back down.
It was towards the end of his second term as Chief Executive that the rumours started. Tsang and wife were allegedly enjoying entertainment and travel from powerful business people. Stories of travel on private jets and luxury yachts did not play well. The public suspicious of government and big business collusion. Tsang feigned innocence. Then the bombshell landed. Tsang had taken a flat in Shenzhen at a discounted rate from a businessman. A businessman bidding for a broadcasting license. Whilst deliberating the license bid Tsang failed to declare this deal. In 2015, two counts of 'misconduct in public office' and one count of 'accepting an advantage' resulted.
Pure greed can be the only explanation for Tsang’s actions. It's evident he enjoyed the adornments of wealth. With his large civil service pension, he’d have enjoyed a retirement beyond the means of the majority. This was not enough. The trapping of wealth fed a vainglories personality and took him off the path of virtue. Even a Jesuit background could not steer him on a straight path.
The trial this month saw the entire Hong Kong establishment turn out for Tsang. The evidence and letters of support revealed the top echelons of Hong Kong’s government have a perverse take on accountability. The fact that Tsang is a devote Catholic was cited as reasons for clemency. One wonders if Buddhists and the like are liable for the same indulgence. Others hung their pleas on the fact he’d done good work in the past.
Fortunately, the Court appears to have ignored these puerile attempts to derail justice. Tsang received a sentence that is commensurate with the crime and the power he wielded. The establishment has seen fit to continue bleating with requests for special treatment. It was thus pleasing to see Tsang taken to prison in a brown uniform and handcuffed. The same as other criminals. Such observations are not petty nor vengeful, but rather an affirmation of equality before the law.
This sorry episode has blown the curtain back on the attitudes of senior personalities in the Hong Kong establishment. The sight is unedifying. It reveals an outlook of privilege and sense of immunity because of one’s position. Hopefully, the conviction of Tsang will blow some holes in these sanctimonious beliefs.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.