An adviser to Hong Kong’s embattled leader has revealed that members of her cabinet had considered resigning en masse amid the ongoing anti-government protests, but the idea was rejected by the chief executive who said they only played a minor role in the political crisis.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, an executive councillor, disclosed the move for the first time on Sunday as demonstrations continue into their seventh month, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The movement has morphed into a wider campaign for more democracy and an independent inquiry into police’s handling of protests, marking Hong Kong’s biggest social unrest since its 1997 return to Chinese rule.
“An executive councillor had [informally] told Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor that we did not mind tabling a collective resignation, if it helped the situation,” Ip said in a television interview.
“But the chief executive said we were on the periphery, merely giving advice … meaning if anyone should have to be held accountable, Executive Council members would not be the first.”
Exco runs under the principles of collective responsibility and confidentiality, serving as an advisory body for the city’s leader.
The Chief Executive’s Office said it had no comment on Sunday evening.
Lam appointed 16 non-official Exco members when she took office in July 2017.
In response to a follow-up query by the Post, Ip said the idea of collective resignation was only “an academic discussion among ourselves”, referring to some of the councillors.
Two members the Post contacted did not deny that the discussion took place.
Ip, speaking in the earlier television interview, said the government might consider if a ministerial reshuffle would help resolve the crisis, adding “this may not only hold them accountable, but also alleviate public anger”.
“From the government’s perspective, the issue to consider when letting ministers resign, or asking them to step down, is about finding suitable replacements,” she said.
Ip, who resigned as secretary for security in 2003 after a proposed national security law sparked massive protests, also said she felt tricked by the government’s U-turn in June over the suspension of the extradition bill.
The reviled legislation would have allowed for the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no such agreement, including mainland China.
After a massive march on June 9 and confrontations between protesters and police outside the legislature on June 12, Ip said she had made a call to the administration and was told authorities would not back down.
Yet on June 15, soon after Lam called for a meeting with Exco members to explain her change of heart, the decision to suspend the bill was made. On September 4, Lam announced the official withdrawal of the bill.
“I knew I was tricked,” Ip said of the incident.
Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu, however, said collective resignation by Exco members would not quell public anger.
“It will absolutely not help. It might help a little if Lam resigns because, as she has already made clear, Exco members are only peripheral. She was telling the truth,” Lau said.
He added that Lam’s description of the cabinet implied she was saying members had no real power in policymaking. Lau said the composition of Exco also showed “no political alliance” between different groups, as members were all considered part of the pro-establishment bloc.
Separately, in an interview on Saturday with online news outfit Shanghai Observer about the ongoing social unrest, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said the government had the power to disqualify school principals and teachers deemed to be unsuitable for their positions over how they handled protest-related matters.
“All principals are appointed by the permanent secretary for education, and so we have the legal power [to disqualify them]. But we will be very cautious in exercising this,” Yeung said.
Yeung added that two public school teachers had been transferred to the Education Bureau’s office after allegations of inappropriate online comments. The bureau would decide on further action on the pair after an investigation was completed, he said.
Earlier this month, Yeung revealed that about 80 teachers had been arrested over their involvement in the protests, while at least four had resigned or were suspended. The bureau received 123 complaints of protest-related misconduct against teachers between mid-June and late November.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said Yeung’s remarks amounted to “white terror”, as the minister was pressuring schools to align themselves with the government’s political stance.
Ip said normally only school boards could fire principals and teachers. The “school-based management” system, which provided flexibility to operate, would be destroyed if the bureau got too involved, he said.
Tai Tak-ching, head of the Wan Chai District Headmasters’ Conference, believed Yeung’s comments had left school heads in a difficult position. He said although he agreed that hate speech or provocative acts on social media were inappropriate for teachers, principals sometimes had limited power to look into each case as some comments might be private.
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