Leung Chun-ying

It's time for the big sell

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2012, 12:00am


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When Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying toured working-class districts yesterday he and his ministers may have been hoping to ease at least some of the fears expressed by hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers in Sunday's demonstrations.

Their decision to meet and greet the people on his first working day indicates his government's priorities.

Leung's stormy reception in Tuen Mun might not augur well for his future relations with the public, but his more immediate and pressing challenge is to eliminate doubts about his integrity and build up a reputable team.

'I share with my team the same vision - [we will] share, honour or disgrace,' Leung declared on Thursday, when introducing his cabinet to the media, a comment that also acknowledged the need to build up the new cabinet's team spirit.

This declaration sounded heartfelt, coming in the weeks since March 25, when Leung was chosen as the city's new leader. Since then he has endured the highs and lows - mostly the lows - of public opinion, a rollercoaster ride that brought an end to his 'political honeymoon' well before his term had even begun.

Not only has he failed to win lawmakers' support for an ambitious plan to restructure the government, but the discovery of six illegal structures at his home on The Peak has brought his integrity into question.

These questions became an obvious issue on Thursday.

One reporter put it bluntly to Leung's ministers: 'Do the three of you still think Mr Leung Chun-ying is a person with integrity as he is embroiled in the illegal structure saga?'

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who as the new chief secretary is Leung's second-in-command, phrased her answer carefully: 'I share with and believe in Mr Leung's vision; we'll all work diligently for a better Hong Kong.'

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and new Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, responded in similar manner, saying they totally agreed with Lam and had nothing more to add.

Understandably, the new ministers did not want to say anything negative about their new boss, but the cautiousness of their replies failed to dispel suspicions that they do, in fact, harbour doubts about him.

A better answer to the same question was given by Lam Woon-kwong, the new convenor of the Executive Council, who dared to express views of his new boss in public.

Lam admitted that controversy over illegal structures at Leung's home gave people the impression he had been careless, and branded this as 'a rather major fault'.

Another person who displayed similar candour was Paul Chan Mo-po, lawmaker for the accountancy sector, who was widely expected to be appointed deputy financial secretary if and when Leung's government restructuring clears all the hurdles.

Last week, the proposed restructuring plan fell short of Legco's initial approval by one vote, and Chan was among those who voted against it. He said he was trying to avoid accusations of a possible conflict of interest if he had voted for something from which he stood to benefit personally.

Chan's 'no' vote, and the abstention by lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee in the same debate, ensured the restructuring bill would not become law before Leung's term started.

Ip, the chairwoman of the New People's Party, said that as a legislator, she was not supposed to be 'the servant or maid' of the government. That response may have led to her omission from the line-up for the Executive Council, of which she had been expected to become a member.

Whether Chan will be similarly punished remains to be seen. Some of those who voted in favour of the plan were reportedly so furious with him that they have urged Leung to seriously reconsider his appointment as deputy financial secretary once the restructuring is approved.

What this episode nevertheless does suggest is that some of those closest to Leung don't work as a team.

With the exception of Carrie Lam, Leung's team also lacks political stars. Lam at least has the reputation of a being a 'fire lady' - a reference to her tendency to ignite 'political fires', thanks to her tough style and strong will to win.

One such 'fire' was started when she spoke of her intention to end the small-house policy, which gives indigenous villagers in the New Territories preferential land rights. Her comments triggered an uproar from the rural constituencies represented by the powerful Heung Yee Kuk, and she now faces a formidable challenge in sticking to her chosen course.

There are also doubts whether the new team, many of whom come from professional backgrounds, has the political skills needed for handling sensitive issues.

New Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing is a well-known architect, but his ability to handle the thorny negotiations with the two electricity companies over bill adjustments has yet to be proven.

Another is the new Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, a doctor who is well respected for his professional achievements and known for his role in the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. However, his ability to tackle the tough reforms needed in the medical sector and manpower shortages remains to be seen.

Despite such concerns, in the interests of fairness, Leung and his team may deserve the benefit of any doubts, at least for now.

The period between now and October, when Leung will give his first policy address to a new Legco, will be critical.

He may decide to give up his restructuring plan, at least in the short term, and instead concentrate on some of the city's more pressing issues, such as poverty, the shortage of housing, the widening wealth gap and safeguarding core values.

In the long run, the government must put aside personal considerations and unite to live up to the people's expectations, in both political and economic developments.

In facing up to such challenges, they may find that meeting the people on the streets was the easy part.