I am grateful to Dr Gregg Li for letting me reference his material. Dr Li is a Corporate Governance expert based in Hong Kong. He sits on several Boards and is very interested in Innovation. The case of Dennis Kwok raises many political and strategic issues for Hong Kong. Dr Li’s position is that it is simpler than it seems. It is also a lesson for ‘political’ committees in all parts of the world.
Dennis Kwok is a founder member of the Civic Party of Hong Kong. Formed in 2006, the Civic Party has been a leading force in the ‘Pan-democratic’ group. Party elders consist mainly of lawyers, anxious to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms from perceived PRC attrition.
Mr Kwok has been a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (Legco) since 2006. (Legco is Hong Kong’s ‘parliament’). He was recently tasked to chair a meeting that would elect the Chairman for the House Committee. Mr Kwok is the deputy committee chairman for the House Committee. He is not the committee chair; the election is his only responsibility.
He has not been able to deliver this task after 15 meetings since October 2019.
Recently, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office gave an opinion (in Chinese) on this delay. This questioned Mr Kwok’s integrity and adherence to the oath of office all Legislators must take.
What are they arguing about?
In addition, as a result of Kwok’s inability or unwillingness to deliver on his task for over six months, politicians and legal scholars also cite misconduct, dereliction of duty, or the breaking of his Oath of Office. There is also a call to form an independent task force to evaluate his performance and his misconduct in this public office.
Kwok, on the other hand, has said that he will continue to abide by the rules of procedure and house rules to conduct this election. He stressed that he would try his best to allow any member to speak up on this matter, inferring that it is the volume and intensity of relevant debates that must be listened to and which has stalled the election of the Chair.
“It is not my fault,” Kwok says.
However, following the riots in Hong Kong in 2019, Legco is dominated by Pan-Democrats. They oppose the Hong Kong Government, the PRC Government and Pro-Establishment Hong Kong politicians. The suspicions being voiced by these groups is that Mr Kwok is deliberately stalling the election process in order to cause maximum disruption. Such political shenanigans occur almost everywhere and cause huge damage not only to the legislative process but also to democracy itself. Whether this is the case or not is something only Mr Kwok can answer.
What are the practical implications for this delay?
The implication for Legco business is that 14 bills have been held up, including a bill to extend statutory maternity leave, and 89 pieces of subsidiary legislation. These would need to be endorsed by the House Committee before they can be debated at Legco plenary meetings.
However, the implication for Hong Kong, unfortunately, is much broader and more profound. During this period of COVID-19, pending massive unemployment and not to mention riots arising from the Extradition Bill, such unnecessary or delay at Legco by its own making, will stall on any remedial measures from Legco.
What are the Governance issues?
The real issue in this case is surely one of chairmanship incompetence. The incumbent has not performed or delivered on his task as assigned. He may even have been negligent, in that he knew what he should be doing, but neglected to deliver. This would be the position of the pro-Government parties.
What indeed, is the role of the Chair?
Putting aside which party he belongs to let us focus only on the role of a chair of a meeting. The Chair’s primary responsibility is to chair a meeting and deliver the purpose of that meeting. To do this, the Chair would have to decide which topics to drop, which to add, and which to debate.
The output of a good meeting is a series of good decisions. When meetings are badly chaired, the quality of decisions will suffer. Meetings are held for a purpose. For committee meetings to be legal, certain rules and procedures are observed. The purpose of the meeting is primary, and for this primary function to take place, a chair must chair properly.
What should be done?
Because of Mr Kwok’s incompetence, Hong Kong’s ability to recover from the downturn is being seriously undermined.
In the political context, has Hong Kong truly advanced the cause for democracy by allowing an incompetent chairman to remain in his post? The least Legco should do is to remove Dennis Kwok from the post of chairman for this election task.
Whatever the political rights or wrongs, good governance demands competence above all. One issue with democracy is that the person so elected is automatically assumed to be competent in certain board functions. How silly!
First, who’s to know and be the judge of this candidate that he is competent in this respect? The assumption is that the electorate does so. But how can they know?
Second, once elected and into the system, who is to say a politician can or must do the job for which he or she was elected? The only chance comes after a few years and another election. But who formally evaluates him or her? The practice is that the politicians themselves make their own case with all the bias that this implies. If they present this well, they win. The ‘mob’ rules. This was what the founders of Greek Democracy feared the most.
The current Western democratic process does not work optimally because it often ends up putting incompetent people in charge.
In the famous Churchill quotation:
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Is this still true today? I’d be interested in your view…