CHINA> Democracy
'HK's academic freedom unaffected'
By Joseph Li (HK Edition)
Updated: 2007-06-21 06:54

Hong Kong's academic freedom has not been affected by the irregularities discovered by the commission investigating the controversy surrounding the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd).

This was the conclusion of the commission's report submitted to Chief Executive Donald Tsang yesterday.

Fanny Law, former permanent secretary for education and manpower, resigned as head of Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) for her previous role in the HKIEd incident.

Law's resignation, made after the Commission of Inquiry has found her interfering with the academic freedom of HKIEd academics who criticized the education reform, was accepted by the CE who announced it in a press conference yesterday.

Tsang pointed out that the commission had rejected the allegation of interference with institutional autonomy, emphasizing the government's steering of HKIEd towards institutional collaboration was consistent with properly formulated education policy and public interest, and that cannot be considered as unjustified interference with its institutional autonomy.

The commission gave a clean chit to Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li by clearing him from two allegations.

The allegation that Li threatened to cut the student quotas of HKIEd if its president Paul Morris refused to merge with the Chinese University of Hong Kong was not established.

He was also cleared of another allegation that he told HKIEd vice-president Bernard Luk that "I will remember this, you will pay" when the latter refused to issue a statement to condemn surplus teachers who joined in a sit-in protest.

In its 163-page report, the commission said that Law had complained to Morris about academics Cheng Yin-cheong and Ip Kin-yuen who had criticized the government education policy.

The commission believes Law only expressed her anger and frustration when she complained to Morris because she was concerned about the image of the education sector.

However, the commission forms the opinion that it was improper for someone of her position to attempt to silence critics by addressing them personally or through their superiors, irrespective of the motive.

"Given she is the second most senior education official, the complaint, though made casually, carried significant weight and more particularly, can be viewed as an attempt to silence critics," said the report.

At the press briefing session, Donald Tsang said he felt glad that most of the allegations had not been established.

He revealed that Law offered her resignation from her post on Monday but he told her to at least wait for the report. Law went to see him yesterday afternoon and stuck to her decision to quit.

"It was a matter of tremendous regret and sadness that Mrs Law has applied for early retirement and I have tried without success to persuade her to stay.

"I have no doubt that what she had done when she was Permanent Secretary of Education and Manpower was out of a selfless passion to serve Hong Kong by promoting education reforms.

"I have worked with Mrs Law for years and known her well. She is a forthright person, diligent and serving with total commitment and dedication. I have absolutely no doubt on Mrs Law's credibility and trustworthiness as a person.

"I have acceded in the circumstances to her request to step down from the post of ICAC commissioner and forwarded her application to the central government," he said.

The CE will now have to name another person to fill the post of ICAC commissioner, which is one of the principal officials in the SAR.

Secretary for the Civil Service Denise Yue said she felt extremely sad to learn of Law's resignation. She also called Law a very dedicated and professional colleague who always worked for greater public interest.

HKIEd council member Anthony Chow said it was a pity that Law had resigned though she had made a great deal of contribution during her long service with the government.

Legislator Tam Yiu-chung, from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, described Law as a hard-working, devoted, and zealous official.

(HK Edition 06/21/2007 page6)