My watershed moment came in 2008, Tsang says
Outgoing chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said yesterday that the expansion of the ministerial, or accountability, system in 2008 was a watershed moment for his popularity during his seven years at the helm.
Appearing at a Legislative Council question-and-answer session for the last time, Tsang also admitted his administration had failed to narrow the wealth gap and was not decisive enough in tackling high property prices.
'I understand my administration fell short of expectations. There were misjudgments and strays in [policy] implementation,' he said.
In 2008, Tsang expanded political appointments by adding undersecretary and political assistant posts. But this was heavily criticised for failing to improve governance and for being a waste of public money.
Tsang yesterday said the expansion had been essential for democratic development and to prepare for universal suffrage in 2017, but he admitted he paid a political price.
'To review the change of my popularity, expanding the accountability system in 2008 was a watershed,' he said. 'I had underestimated the political consequence and the complicated issues related to the expansion of the political accountability system - that included how to select the talents, what are the appropriate terms of appointment, as well as the relationship between principal officials and civil servants.'
According to opinion polls by the University of Hong Kong, Tsang's rating stood at 66 points out of 100 in May 2008. But it has plunged sharply since then and the latest poll earlier this month put his rating at its lowest level of 38.5 points. And 78 per cent of the 1,041 respondents showed no confidence in Tsang.
Tsang said he had not been decisive enough about increasing land supply after the city's economy began to recover in 2003 and he failed to resurrect the Home Ownership Scheme quickly enough. This led to widespread discontent over rising property prices. The scheme provides subsidised flats for sale.
He said: 'I had to [consider] ... that [the government] over-intervening in the property market would lead to a domino effect that would force the market to collapse [with] serious economic consequences.'
He also admitted misjudgment in balancing economic and social developments that led to grievances.
'I used to believe that different social stratums could enjoy the fruits of economic development as a result of the trickle-down effect. However, there were discrepancies between the theory and reality,' Tsang said.
He called on his successor Leung Chun-ying to tackle these two problems and showed confidence in him.
He again rejected calls from pan-democratic lawmakers to step down for accepting yacht and jet trips from his tycoon friends, insisting he needed to stay to ensure a smooth transition of government. 'I can't quit the post earlier, otherwise I would owe Hong Kong people,' he said.