Leung-term return would be music to our ears

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, 12:00am

White Collar is big a fan of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, and so are many from the financial sector. The six shows this columnist has attended so far have also drawn some high-profile players, including Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, Exco member and Citic Pacific managing director Henry Fan Hung-ling, former HSBC boss David Eldon and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing chairman Charles Lee Yeh-kwong, who is also chairman of the Arts Festival.

Tuning in to the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus were former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung and his wife, former diver Fu Mingxia, who just happened to be sitting behind White Collar.

If Mr Leung had not stepped down after the 'Lexusgate' scandal in 2003 - it was revealed he had bought a Lexus just before announcing an increase in vehicle taxes - he probably would not have been able to take time out to enjoy the concert but would have been working on his budget speech. Now, like the rest of us, he is sitting tight until tomorrow to see if Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen will deliver good news on tax cuts in his budget speech.

Mr Leung has kept a low profile away from the media spotlight, so intermission was too good an opportunity not to get his reaction to constant market speculation that he would be back as a top banker.

'I do not have any business plan yet. Now my priority is my family,' he told White Collar, rejecting talk of a comeback. 'I spend most of my time taking care of my wife and my two children. They are so lovely,' he said, showing White Collar pictures of his three-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.

'I will also like to do more charity work,' he added. He is involved in a programme that helps poor mainland families raise cattle to provide milk for children.

Fuelling speculation he was making a move back into the limelight, Mr Leung in October accepted the role of independent director of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, sitting on the board with ex-Goldman Sachs president John Thornton, to help China's largest commercial bank go public in Hong Kong as early as the second half this year.

Mr Leung may no longer be involved in the policy process, but his strategy is working. He targeted a budget surplus in 2006-07 and all expectations are that Henry Tang will announce a surplus of about $10 billion tomorrow. This would not have been possible without Mr Leung's tax increases, pay cuts for civil servants and reductions in other government expenditure. His proposal to introduce the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement also has helped banks, brokers, retailers and accountants do cross-border business.

So, Mr Leung, family is important, but please do not waste your financial talent. Do consider a comeback sometime.

finance fan

Our podcast guest this week is Vincent Lee Kwan-ho, newly elected chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Securities Dealers. A ceremony for the chairman's appointment will be held today at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Mr Lee has been a non-executive director of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing since the company was established in April 2000. In addition, he is the managing director of his family-owned Tung Tai Group.

He joined Tung Tai as managing director in 1994 and has since shifted the group's focus to securities and futures trading.

He and his father, Leo Lee, are both very active in charity activities - his family spent $20 million to sponsor the first Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei to visit Hong Kong in 2003.

Mr Lee senior started his business by importing Italian electronic appliances in the 1950s, but Mr Lee junior has now turned Tung Tai into a financial company. 'If I were born again, I would still choose to be in the financial industry,' the new chairman said.

You can listen to the interview at podcasting.scmp.com

old master

Dutch bank ABN Amro has maintained a presence in Hong Kong since 1906, just three years behind this paper, which was first printed in 1903.

To celebrate the bank's 100th anniversary, a new Van Gogh Preferred Banking Branch will be set up in Pacific Place, Admiralty, next Tuesday. There will be a three-day ABN Amro Bank corporate exhibition where visitors will be able to enjoy Van Gogh's paintings and decor. See you there.