Never say you don’t get good entertainment value for your Hong Kong tax dollars. Within hours of taking office, the city’s new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng suffers an almost clichéd slapstick setback when it emerges that her New Territories villa has illegal structures. One minute she is solemnly swearing an oath to uphold the law, the next she is mumbling apologies for causing ‘inconvenience’ and ‘lacking awareness’.
Naturally, the media swarm to the ‘luxury a la Tuen Mun’ residential development off Castle Peak Road. Using drones, public planning records and satellite photos, the sleuth reporters examine the nasty wedged-in boxes perhaps inspired by the 1960s Albanian Coastal-Defence Installation school of architecture. They determine that Teresa Cheng’s abode does indeed have unauthorized back-yard structures, a rooftop ‘glass-house’ and a mystery staircase leading to the netherworld.
Give or take the alleged sinister subterranean stairway, such transgressions of the building codes are pretty normal. But the press also find a secret doorway leading to the adjacent villa. It is a portal to the semi-sordid world of Hong Kong’s lower-second-tier elites’ personal lives.
It transpires that the neighbour is one Otto Poon, an engineer apparently of great fame and repute – and Teresa’s husband who no-one knew she had. Just a year ago Cheng was sleeping with Poon (chez Poon) (told you this would get icky) while both homes were being burgled. We also learn (or are reminded) that Otto’s previous marriage ended in a mega-bucks divorce following family tragedies, plus a 20-year affair he had with an employee.
But wait! There’s more! His company was involved in Macau’s Ao Man-long land corruption scandal 10 years ago (as were big Hong Kong names). And he sits on the Election Committee that rubber-stamps Beijing’s choice for Chief Executive in Hong Kong, in which capacity he nominated Carrie Lam for her ‘election’ last year.
It also transpires that Teresa has a son (presumably by a long-forgotten and never-mentioned ex-husband, because obviously such possibilities as birth out of wedlock or adoption are too mind-blowingly freaky to contemplate).
The squeamish among us might ask how much of her personal life, such as her arrangement with Otto Poon and his own background, is relevant? (Some grubbier media outlets are digging for details about her son, whose description fits a young lawyer.) Does the fact that she is taking a job in which she will oversee the replacement of Hong Kong’s rule of law with Leninist rule by man legitimize what might otherwise be prurience?
(Another question is what government enforcement agencies knew, and when? But that leads to the whole quagmire of New Territories real-estate corruption.)
The real issue is this: in Hong Kong today, very few intelligent people will seriously want to serve in senior government positions, and by the time the Chinese Communist Party has filtered out undesirables, it’s a wonder anyone is left. It could be that Teresa Cheng was reluctant and/or low down the shortlist – and there wasn’t enough time for non-ideological vetting, let alone for the Buildings Department’s sniffer dogs to check for illicit wine cellars. This is why ideas-free, mediocre bureaucrats head up most policy bureaus.
The investigative press/gossip rags obviously timed the publication of this little scandal for maximum effect. Some also see a politically inspired leak. But where from? The United Front has long experience here, but it would release dirt early to stop a target’s progress, or later to eliminate them – not on their first day. Unless, of course, the idea is to derail someone else who is left looking idiotic by the episode, which in this case would be Chief Executive Carrie Lam. If it is any consolation to Carrie, such a conspiracy scenario against her is probably not sufficiently infantile, convoluted or sadistic for the United Front psychos to consider.
On other matters – strictly for Trump-watching language-analysis types and the Turing Test-curious: Who wrote that ‘like, really smart’ Tweet?