Donald Tsang

Diagnosis: too much politics

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2006, 12:00am

We all know that it's government policy to appoint members to the governing boards of statutory bodies. Even so, the premature departure of medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki from the Hospital Authority's board is intriguing at best, scandalous at worst.

In a terse statement, the government announced recently that Dr Kwok would not be reappointed. He was initially named to the authority's board after winning the medical constituency seat in the Legislative Council election of 2004.

His vacated post was taken over by family physician Donald Li Kwok-tung, who is close to authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk. Mr Wu and Dr Li play key roles in the Bauhinia Foundation, an independent think-tank founded by Norman Chan Tak-lam, who was the campaign manager on Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's chief executive election team last year.

The removal of Dr Kwok from the board, which was given routine coverage by the media, drew a fierce response from the medical profession. Medical Association vice-president Louis Shih Tai-cho said the authority was insulting the profession by dismissing 'the one person elected by medical professionals'.

Dr Shih said the association would like answers to four questions: What are the criteria for nominating members to the Hospital Authority board? Why was the legislator for the health services sector [Joseph Lee Kok-long] retained on the board, but not the representative for the medical sector?

Is it the policy that critical voices will be dismissed [from the board]? With the diminished representation of legislators in the authority, how will the government ensure that the authority has the necessary accountability and transparency?

A spokesman said the authority was not in a position to discuss the appointments, as they were made by the government in consideration of appointees' 'individual capacities'.

We can forget about that political jargon. The truth is that the background and associations of 'individuals' has always been considered by the government when naming the boards of statutory bodies - which has become a significant part of the government. Funded with taxpayers' money, statutory bodies like the Hospital Authority are given autonomous powers to operate as efficiently and flexibly as possible, to provide better service to the public.

They are obligated to be accountable to the public. The government's appointment of community figures with personal integrity, political legitimacy and professional know-how to sit on their governing boards is a key part of maintaining their public accountability.

It is also important that appointed board members give these statutory bodies a link with Legco. That helps improve mutual understanding of the implementation of health policies in hospitals, and in seeking a consensus on ways to improve the system.

The long-standing practice and convention of making appointments to statutory and advisory bodies has become a significant feature of the city's executive-led political system.

By any standards, Dr Kwok's two-year stint as a board member was shorter than normal. His Legco term doesn't end until 2008. The normal government practice is to reappoint first-term members, to maintain continuity and accumulate experience on such boards.

Cynics have good reason, therefore, to speculate that Dr Kwok was kicked out because of his criticism of the government on issues including universal suffrage, harbour reclamation and the Tamar project. Indeed, high-ranking government officials made no secret of their dismay with his approach, accusing him of opposing for the sake of opposition.

It's understandable that the government, like its counterparts elsewhere, treats its friends and foes differently. But Dr Kwok was elected with a mandate from the medical sector. So it would be an excessive, unprincipled example of 'friends-and-foes' politics if his seat in the authority were given to a government ally out of political considerations.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large