Chan Cho Wai

Working party members defend decision rejecting independent HKU chancellor

September 05, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

Recommendations for an independent chancellor at the University of Hong Kong was rejected due to a lack of “political feasibility”, said members of the working party looking into governance reform.

At a student forum Tuesday morning, working party members Joseph Chan Cho-wai, Patrick Poon Sun-cheong, and Ayesha Lau heard comments and took questions on their report published at the end of June. The forum exclusively focused on the report’s recommendation against separating the role of HKU chancellor from Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Currently chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor is HKU’s chancellor by default, and exercises power to appoint members to HKU Council.

Instead of curtailing the chief executive’s powers in her capacity as HKU chancellor, the report proposed a two-way “communication framework”, where Council committees will “provide relevant information and advice” and assist her in identifying suitable candidates.

“We have to bite the bullet, these are legally powerless procedures,” said Chan, conceding the procedures are administrative in nature and not binding on the chief executive. He also acknowledged there is no direct check-and-balance mechanism if she rejects those procedures.

“Let’s say for the sake of argument, if she refuses to discuss anything, and simply reject [our recommendations] and impose a name on us, that means she’s not following procedures she agreed to. [That] means these procedures are not going to work, and we have to admit failure.”

“In those circumstances, we have to review. If this happens again and again, that means the chancellor refuses to respect the rules she has agreed to, then Council has to consider other measures,” Chan said. “What are they? I don’t know.”

The working party was tasked with looking into recommendations proposed by a separate, external review panel. The majority of the three-member review panel agreed that the role of chancellor should become “honorary.”

According to members of the working party, that proposal was rejected because it would not fit within the “political feasibility constraint” in the current climate. In order to amend the chancellor’s powers, a legislative amendment is required, and the working party wrote that getting approval by the Legislative Council is “uncertain, long and protracted.”

Chan noted the potential for political backlash, both in LegCo and in HKU itself: “Maybe the word ‘uncertain’ is too weak to me. To be absolutely frank, I think it is quite certain [the result] will be bad,” Chan said. “I’m not agreeing with this. I’m not happy with this. But this is the political situation.”

When asked whether there are stronger administrative, non-legislative measures to restrain the chief executive’s powers as chancellor, Chan said the working party couldn’t think of any.

The working party’s members maintain this administrative solution, despite its lack of guarantees, still stands a chance of success. According to them, Carrie Lam has expressed via a written reply that she “welcomes” the recommendation, so long as there is no change to legislation. Chan said this indicates Lam is also “looking for a way out” of the controversy.

The forum drew approximately 20 students. Attendees also raised issues with other recommendations by the working party, such as confidentiality and disciplinary procedures.


Law and literature student at HKU.