Did Link lobbyist overstep the mark?

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Dec 2017

It's curious that people are reluctant to report to police incidents in which they claim to be the victims.

In a recent occurrence, New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee accused investment columnist Simon Lee Siu-fu of intimidating her via party officials - warning her of certain consequences if she doesn't stop criticizing the unpopular Link REIT.

My jaw dropped when she said she wouldn't report the "intimidation" to police. I'm confused: is it because she doesn't think the police will discover the truth, or because she's concerned the police will uncover the truth?

If it's the former, police commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung must reflect on it seriously, to find out why a politician who used to be the most senior official in charge of security lacks confidence in the force.

If it's the latter, Ip owes everyone an explanation.

The row blew up suddenly, with Ip making headlines at a time the media should be focusing on something more important - such as the Legislative Council's controversial plan to amend the standing orders to prevent filibustering.

Ip attributed the threats to her damning criticisms of the real estate investment trust.

In particular, she said, Lee told her party's policy director, Derek Yuen Mi-chang, that if she didn't stop making disparaging remarks, they would make trouble for her district councillors.

Ip said she taped her conversation with Yuen as he reported the incident to her. It's hard to believe she would record conversations with her own team. Why?

Lee pleaded innocence, insisting that he'd never used those words in his conversation with Yuen during a public occasion. It's likely that unless Ip is willing to hand over evidence of alleged intimidation to police, accusations will continue to fly, and the truth may not be known. Should that be the case, would it be another kangaroo trial?

The incident nevertheless helps underscore a practice commonly employed in the commercial world, in the face of an increasingly politicized environment.

Some call them advisers, and others say lobbyists. Whatever they're branded, what they do is help clients win over critics while promoting their commercial causes. This is legitimate, and it's probable Lee was doing this as he offered himself as a bridge.

In hindsight, Lee would have been spared embarrassment had Link REIT's public relations department done a better job.

In a dramatic move recently, the company sold a considerable portfolio of 17 shopping malls for a total of HK$23 billion to a consortium led by Hong Kong-based equity fund, Gaw Capital Partners. The sale involves 2.2 million square feet, and critics are concerned the new owner may jack up rents further.

It may be a concern, but the company shouldn't be blamed for trying to undo its "original sin" by selling the former public housing malls. At the end of the day, it's a commercial operation, no?

Nonetheless, it's only to be expected that criticisms will keep flying, and politicians won't let the obvious target off the hook so easily.

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