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Friends and foes hail Li's `brave' Legco decision

Bonnie Chen

Monday, February 18, 2008

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Bank of East Asia (0023) chairman David Li Kwok-po was yesterday hailed by friends and foes alike for making the courageous decision to step down as an Executive Council member following the revelation he had paid a huge sum to settle an insider trading case against him.

Li will retain his seat in the Legislative Council, with most agreeing that his position there is one for his functional constituency to decide.

Li quit Exco on Saturday, about two weeks after he agreed to pay more than HK$63 million to settle an allegation involving insider trading in the United States.

Exco members and National People's Congress local deputies Laura Cha Shih May-lung and Bernard Chan Charnwut said in Zhuhai yesterday Li's departure was a loss for Exco. "Li has made a great contribution to Hong Kong," Cha said.

As there is no limit placed on the number of Exco ex-officio members, Cha said the chief executive should decide whether a replacement is needed. But, according to a source, the government is not inclined to do so right away as the chief executive has already said he will reshuffle his Cabinet after the Legislative Council election in September.

Chan said he hopes Li's quitting will not affect his work in Legco. "Li has not been found guilty of anything. I think he does not need to bear any responsibility, nor does he need to quit Legco," Chan said, adding Li can continue to make a contribution to the society through his other public offices. Li currently holds 69 public offices, both in Hong Kong and abroad. He has represented the finance sector in Legco since 1985 and, in his statement, he said he hoped to continue to fulfil his duties as a Legco member.

Last Friday, he said many members from his functional constituency sector would support him should he run for another term.

Lawmaker Anson Chan Fang On- sang said yesterday Li's decision had eased the pressure on the chief executive and the government and eliminated uncertainties. "He was brave and decisive in making a decision that was difficult to make," the former chief secretary said.

Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said Li's action was appropriate. Party members Ronny Tong Ka- wah and Mandy Tam Heung- man had earlier suggested discussing the issue in Legco. But Tam said yesterday she would not go ahead with the plan.

Critics agreed Li's decision has spared Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - a close personal friend - from having to deal with a political landmine. In Li's statement issued on Saturday, he said: "It would be highly unfair to the chief executive and my fellow executive councillors for me to allow the current situation to continue. I have therefore made the very difficult decision to resign."


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