What is HKU's murky role in 'Occupy Central'?

Updated: 2014-11-04 08:15

By Harry Ong(HK Edition)

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To what extent is the University of Hong Kong (HKU) involved in the "Occupy Central" movement? The extraordinary circumstances surrounding donations totaling HK$1.3 million, originally made to the "Occupy" movement but then passed on to HKU, demand further investigation, as does a further donation of HK$150,000 to pay the salary of a "research assistant" for the prime-mover of "Occupy", HKU's associate professor of law Benny Tai Yiu-ting.

We are indebted to a whistle-blower identified as "Steven Yip" for sending five leaked e-mails to newspapers and media outlets. These e-mails exposed the previously confidential cash handouts.

There can be no doubt of the connection between the money and the "Occupy" campaign. The HK$1.3 million came in the form of checks for HK$800,000, HK$300,000 and HK$200,000 originally presented over a period of several months either to "Occupy" co-founder Chu Yiu-ming or fellow co-founder Tai. The identity of the go-between is immaterial - what is significant is that they ended up in the hands of Tai, who in turn passed them to HKU's Public Opinion Programme, its Law Faculty and the School of Humanities, supposedly "to cover some of the expenses the HKU incurred" through its involvement in "civil referendum" and related activities of "Occupy".

According to "Occupy", the donor was a member of the public who wished to support "efforts in promoting democracy."

Surely this case warrants a thorough judicial inquiry.

With questions centering on Tai's ongoing involvement in "Occupy", which goes back to its formation last January, and the duties of his "research assistant" who obviously was not on the HKU's payroll and yet seems to have been working closely with Tai - perhaps carrying out solely "Occupy"-related duties. The university might also wish to reveal, in the interests of transparency, whether Tai has been granted any leave of absence from his duties coinciding with the present protests lately.

Another important point is whether any staff members might have been involved in a conspiracy to aid, abet and encourage HKU students to participate in "Occupy" protests and other trouble-making.

Now the lid has been lifted on this controversial affair the HKU has attempted to justify its acceptance of the money by stating that in this case it had followed established guidelines on the acceptance of donations, and procedures to verify the source of donations. It says it respects the wishes of donors to remain anonymous, and added that the donations were used for academic, infrastructure, research and learning activities. Its statement piously adds: "We regret that confidential e-mails have been released into the public domain. All discussions with donors and potential donors remain private." Understandably the statement made no mention of whether the checks in fact represented payment for whatever services HKU might have rendered to "Occupy".

Tai agreed that "Occupy" could not reveal the name of the donor without his consent, adding only that the donor or donors were "local".

The public has a right to know to what extent HKU, or indeed any of our other tax-funded tertiary institutions, allow senior academic staff to indulge their personal whims and fancies during what might be termed "office time"? Meanwhile, another batch of leaked e-mails have linked the name of "Occupy's" third co-founder, Chan Kin-man, with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an American organization funded by the US Congress. Apparently Chan met with NED representatives in January 2013 - the same month the "Occupy" movement was founded. Then in June last year Tai had a meeting with the vice-president of another US government-funded organization, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). Might there be some connection between all these activities and the month-long obstruction of some of our busiest streets by protesters?

The author is a seasoned observer of Asian affairs.

(HK Edition 11/04/2014 page10)