Whistleblowing, Red Chips, and the Provisional Legislature in Hong Kong

Article excerpt

The reversion of Hong Kong and its 6.4 million residents from Britain to China became an international headline. The grand reversion celebration at midnight on June 30, 1997, was attended by world leaders. There was much debate about who would attend the inauguration of the Beijing-appointed legislative council, and the world watched to see whether China would interrupt a protest organized by democracy supporters. But underlying the highly publicized events is one main question: Will Deng Xiaoping's model of "One Country Two Systems" work? Further questions spring up: Can a prosperous, capitalist mega-city survive with some autonomy and maintain the rule of law while being a part of socialist mainland China? How can "One Country Two Systems" be implemented?

As a Hong Kong-born Chinese of parents from the neighboring province of Fujian, I look forward to the long-term success of Deng's model and hope to contribute to the realization of this success by analyzing three controversial aspects of Hong Kong's return to China: whistle-blowing, red chips (mainland China-funded companies), and the Provisional legislature in Hong Kong. If these issues arc not handled properly with informed decisions, they can undermine the good intentions of both Beijing and Hong Kong. Hong Kong's experiences as it returns to China also highlight issues of concern to public administrators everywhere. The issues that have come up so far suggest what institutions or procedures arc necessary to fight corruption, protect human rights, and maintain the rule of law.

Whistleblowing: Civil Servant's Free Speech and Decolonization

In 1989, the United States enacted the Whistleblower Protection Act (Jos, Tompkins, and Hays, 1989, 558). The American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) also asks its members to "protect the whistleblowing rights of public employees" in Section II(6) of its Code of Ethics.

The situation may not be perfect in the United States, but there is some recognition of the need to protect whistleblowers. There is less recognition of this need in the United Kingdom. The internal disciplinary code requires civil servants to obtain prior permission for outside speech. Two cases highlight the unsatisfactory situation in Britain: the prime minister refused to remove the reprimand against Trevor Brown's disclosure of lack of nuclear safety (Cripps, 1983, 602-603) and the whistleblowing doctors and nurses in the British National Health Service all suffered reprisals (Laurance and Dobson, 1993, 12). The situation was much worse during the 150-odd years of colonial rule in Hong Kong. Writing in 1988, Terry T. Lui (161 n. 28) defined whistleblowing as "a situation when an official sounds an alarm drawing attention to instances of abuse or neglect in the organization which might threaten the public interest" and she reported "no documented cases of whistleblowing among serving civil servants in Hong Kong."

If whistleblowing deserved only the attention of an endnote in 1988, the political change since then has made the subject more prominent. In a 1994 survey, Clark concluded that the situation in Hong Kong was a serious that a single law on protecting whistleblowers would not be enough, and argued that the whole structure of accountability, along with a free press and an administrative culture of openness, were also important (1994, 147). Chua and Gould, in considering what kind of whistleblower's protection legislation would ensure accountability and the autonomy of the Hong Kong civil service, concluded that Hong Kong "organizations can live with the injury of their secrets being revealed, but they simply cannot abide the insult that one of their own trusted employees has violated the Weberian Contract in order to do it" (1995, 251, 260).

As the date of the reversion drew near, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary Anson Chan became much more outspoken on Hong Kong's move towards lesser political freedoms and civil liberties (South China Morning Post, 19 May 1997). …