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Posts Tagged ‘Jasper Tsang’

Frankly I am surprised we are even discussing whether Jasper Tsang should resign after being caught exchanging Whatsapp messages with a pro-establishment group during the run-up to the great constitutional reform walk-out. Alex Lo arrived at the right conclusion after making an egregious mistake. It is not the case that “in the West” the Speaker is a member of the majority party and behaves accordingly. This is the case in the US, which no doubt explains why Mr Lo erred. But the US constitution was built from scratch. In those countries in “the West” which inherited the English parliamentary system the Speaker is expected and required to be impartial.

To this end he or she drops out of party politics entirely when appointed, and keeps the job until retirement, regardless of what happens to parties in the meantime. There is no requirement that the Speaker be from the ruling party and if it has a small majority the ruling party may actually insist on recruiting someone from the Opposition, to avoid losing a member from its voting strength. This idea of an impartial chairman was clearly the inspiration behind the relevant parts of the Basic Law and both Mr Tsang and his predecessor spoke and acted as if they accepted the obligation to treat all sides or groups fairly and impartially.

We will not linger over Mr Tsang’s observation that he has “not broken any rules”. Some things are so obvious that gentlemen are expected to know them whether there is a specific rule or not. There is no rule, for example, against the Legco chairman turning up for a meeting with a pet crocodile on a leash. Members should take some limits for granted. When the rules were framed Whatsapp had not become the universal and very useful app which it is now. The question which Mr Tsang should be asking himself is not “is there a rule against it?” but “is there a reasonable expectation that an impartial chairman will not do this sort of thing?”

And once you put it that way it’s a rather easy question. After all if you were accused of a crime and you discovered that during your trial the judge was exchanging Whatsapp messages with the prosecution, what would you think? Would it be permissible for a football referee to hold a running conversation on tactics with one of the team captains, out of the hearing of the other? Actually it does not make any difference whether Mr Tsang was discussing tactics, or whether he passed on titbits of information he had received from other people. It is simply unacceptable for a chairman to be text-messaging to one side, but not the other, during a debate. If he had been surfing the internet looking at naked ladies it would no doubt be embarrassing, but no worse than the other things which councillors do when the proceedings get boring, like crosswords, Sudoku, reading books, or for that matter leaving the chamber until a bell brings them back. But a chairman must meet some basic standards of impartiality. If he talks he must talk to everyone. If he listens it must be to the proceedings, not to electronic whispers from one side of the debate.

No doubt defenders of Mr Tsang will be saying at this point that I just want to get rid of him. Not so. By the standards of the Liaison Office puppets Mr Tsang comes across as polite, intelligent, and even occasionally as having a mind of his own. During my other career as a provider of ceremonial music I have occasionally led him into banqueting halls. Like most of the celebrite guests on these occasions he does not chat to the musicians. But he has never trodden on me or made rude remarks about the bagpipe. As Legco chairman he has sometimes resisted shameless public pressure to bend the rules in the government’s favour. I have no hope of someone better taking over. But some things, once broken, cannot be mended. Mr Tsang no longer has any credibility as an impartial chairman. Off you go, Jasper.

PS Readers who are puzzled by the headline are entitled to an explanation. It comes from an old rugby song in which the first verse is “Oh, Sir Jasper do not touch me”, repeated three times. In subsequent verses a word drops off each time, so that the last three verses are “Oh, Sir Jasper”, “Oh, Sir”, and Oh!”

 

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