Ford put HK first

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 1993, 12:00am

THE stepping down of Sir David Ford as Chief Secretary marks the end of an era. As the last expatriate to hold the post, Sir David has carried out his responsibilities with distinction and unswerving commitment, always putting the territory's interests first. This has not been easy, especially when the territory's interests have not necessarily been the same as Britain's or China's interests. In return, he has earned the respect of those both inside and outside the civil service.

The decision to retain Sir David as the next Commissioner in London is, therefore, to be welcomed by those for whom ability to do the job well is the only criterion. To place a man of his prestige and experience in charge of UK relations at this crucial stage in the territory's transition makes sense. Hong Kong still has many battles to fight - some of them with Whitehall and Westminster - and to have someone of Sir David's calibre on its side will be invaluable. His background and contacts will serve himwell in Britain's high-powered political and business circuits. Such access is important in lobbying. Sir David also has the experience and grit to bargain hard without putting either Britain's or China's sovereignty in question.

Unfortunately, these are sensitive times. The appointment will be greeted in some circles with understandable suspicion. No one would deny Sir David is amply qualified for the job. The question will be whether he is uniquely qualified. Some will ask why this prestigious post should not have gone to a local Chinese. Others will ask whether the post was tailored especially for him, just as they asked whether the position as Head of Hong Kong's North America Office was not created especially for the former Secretary for the Civil Service Barrie Wiggham. At a time when the civil service is embroiled in a bitter row over the Government's apparent lack of commitment to localisation, the appointments look worryingly like rewards for its two most senior British officers.

The Government has gone out of its way to play such fears down, pointing out that Sir David will not be blocking the promotion of any local officers. Yet it has also chosen to extend the posting to well beyond Sir David's normal retirement age. Sir Davidwill weather this storm, as he has weathered so many others, and go on to serve the territory in London with dedication and skill, and, with the interests of Hong Kong, above all else.