• Fri
  • Oct 31, 2014
  • Updated: 8:15pm

Musical chairs on the cards if opera lover Hui retires

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2007, 12:00am

Financial professionals are already taking bets on who will hold the key financial posts in what everybody assumes will be Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's second administration.

The cause of all the speculation is suggestions that Mr Tsang's No2, Rafael Hui Si-yan - an opera lover who's known to miss jetting around in pursuit of his obsession - plans to decline a second term as chief secretary and go into retirement. If that happened, the odds-on favourite to succeed him would be Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen who is said to have earned Beijing's gratitude for his vain efforts to promote the unpopular goods and services tax.

Here's where it gets complicated.

A natural choice to succeed Mr Tang (below) as financial secretary is Norman Chan Tak-lam, vice-chairman for Asia at Standard Chartered Bank.

As a former deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, he knows the government. And he's close to Mr Tsang, having served as secretary-general of his first chief executive campaign in 2005.

Some insiders say, though, that making Mr Chan finance chief would make for big problems in other areas of the bureaucracy.

First off, there's the matter of his wife, Diana Chan Tong Chee-ching, managing director of the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority. She'd have to resign since reporting to her husband would be a conflict of interest.

The one thing the MPFA doesn't need is more turnover in its senior ranks. Its chairman for the past nine years, Charles Lee Yeh-kwong, is due to step down in March for health reasons.

Bankers and brokers also note that as financial secretary Mr Chan would be the boss of his ex-boss, HKMA chief executive Joseph Yam Chi-kwong. Mr Yam might not like that and could opt for early retirement as a result.

A less painful option might be to offer the financial secretary's job to Executive Council member and Citic Pacific managing director Henry Fan Hung-ling. He has good relations with Beijing and knows the markets well.

An alternative from inside the administration might be Stephen Ip Shu-kwan, Secretary for Economic Development and Labour.

Many people think the best possible scenario would be for Mr Hui to stay on as chief secretary for another five years.

'If that happened, then Henry Tang could stay and the HKMA and the MPFA wouldn't need to find replacements. Mr Hui might be forced to miss more opera concerts but he could always arrange for the performers to come to Hong Kong to promote local cultural activities,' a government source quipped.

brokers baulk

The flurry of initiatives designed to boost Hong Kong's competitiveness that Mr Tsang unveiled last week may be calculated to aid his re-election campaign but not all of them have gone down well with bankers and brokers.

Some say the proposals - notably the 'free-walk' capital scheme that would let wealthy mainlanders invest their foreign currency assets in Hong Kong - are merely a wish list that depends on the goodwill of the central government to become reality.

Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association chairman Tony Espina said he opposed the idea of letting overseas brokers trade in the local market without maintaining offices here. Presently, overseas brokers have to trade through local brokers if they don't have an actual presence.

'There would be regulatory problems if these overseas brokers didn't have offices here. In addition, the current rule creates job opportunities and demand for offices locally,' Mr Espina said.

funds chief speaks

Elisabeth Scott, chairman of Hong Kong Investment Funds Association, our podcast guest this week, says the outlook for the funds industry is rosy, giving the growing number of people looking for retirement security and risk diversification.

Ms Scott joined the industry in 1985 and arrived in Hong Kong in 1992. She now runs the Hong Kong business of Schroders.

With two children at home she is a very busy lady but she still finds time for public service. She is actively involved in the Women's Foundation helping those in need.


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