Continuing to perform my public service of moving Private Eye content about Hong Kong online, a letter has been in response to Private Eye’s article about the MTR’s being the new Crossrail operator. It’s on page 17 of issue 1378, and it’s from one David Mather, on which more shortly.
First, though, the letter (with my unsolicited comments interspersed, naturally):
About this “authoritarian clampdown” in Hong Kong. There isn’t one.
There is a fairly big protest which (so far, after three weeks) is being allowed to play itself out.
Quite why the MTR chairman’s seat on HSBC’s board is relevant, I’m not sure. He’s there to be given regular wiggings by the bankers to whom his little enterprise owes substantial sums of money.
Private Eye didn’t say it was relevant. They merely pointed that Raymond Chi’en Kuo Fung chairs both MTR Corporation Ltd and is a non-executive director of HSBC, a British bank (since 1997!). Private Eye is a British magazine and HSBC is a British bank, so maybe they thought it would be of interest to their readers. That banks and government are barely independent these days only increases the interest.
As for including the chairman of a company who owes lots of money on your board, isn’t that a conflict of interest? Furthermore, I thought board members had certain duties beyond being given “wiggings”. The 2013 annual report of Hong Kong Banking Corporation Limited (the wholly-owned subsidiary of HSBC Holdings PLC, and the company of which Chi’en is an NED) states
Non-executive Directors are not HSBC employees and do not participate in the daily business management of the Bank; they bring an external perspective, constructively challenge and help develop proposals on strategy, scrutinize the performance of management in meeting agreed goals and objectives, and monitor the risk profile and reporting of performance of the Bank. The non-executive Directors bring experience from a number of industries and business sectors, including the leadership of large complex multinational enterprises. The Board has considered the independence of each of the non-executive Directors and determined that each non-executive Director is independent in character and judgement and that there are no relationships or circumstances likely to affect their judgement, with any relationships or circumstances that could appear to do so not considered to be material.
The Hong Kong Institute of Directors has a guide for Independent Non-Executive Directors that states
As an Independent Non-Executive Director your role is or will be to supervise management, participate in the direction of the company’s business and affairs and speak out firmly and objectively on these and other issues that may come before the board.
That sounds like rather more than getting wigged.
Back to the letter:
By the way, if Crossrail is half as good as the Hong Kong MTR, it will be the best rail offering in Britain.
I personally agree with this, but I’m not sure what the relevance to the article is, to borrow an argument.
So who is David Mather? Assuming he’s the same man as this chap, he’s an HSBC stalwart who’s been involved with the bank for decades. According to his LinkedIn profile, since March 2014 he has been a Masters Student in London, long before the protests started.
As a self-described “Asia specialist”, surely the misdirection and omissions in his letter are inadvertent?