New minister Greg So says political ties won't sway him
A former top leader of Hong Kong's biggest party, Greg So Kam-leung, yesterday became the first government minister with open political affiliation after he was formally appointed as secretary for commerce and economic development.
So, who gave up his Canadian citizenship to secure a position in the political elite in 2008, remains a rank-and-file member of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, but said yesterday his affiliation would in no way affect his decisions as a minister. Senior civil servants and political analysts saw the appointment of So, who used to be a vice-chairman of the party, as a 'compromise' and not a move towards party-led government.
After heading the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau as acting secretary since March when his predecessor Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan stepped down for health reasons, So will lead the bureau until June 30 next year when the tenure of Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his cabinet ends.
Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said: 'With only a year left for the government it is hard to find a replacement. Instead of thinking that a trend has been set for people with a political background taking up senior posts, I would say it is only a compromise.'
Since Lau quit after surgery for colon cancer, the government has approached a number of people to fill the post, including the bureau's permanent secretary, Andrew Wong Ho-yuen, and his predecessor, Yvonne Choi Ying-pik, who retired last November.
'With such a short tenure, it is unfair to ask an administrative officer to give up a permanent post or ask a retiree to return to work,' Choy said.
Senior Government Officers Association chairman So Ping- chi did not believe the appointment meant more people with political backgrounds would become ministers.
'Greg So was given the job because many people declined to take up the post as it will only last for a year,' he said. 'Since he was the undersecretary, it is normal that he was picked as he is familiar with what is going on in the bureau. He has been there for three years already,' he said.
At a press conference on the appointment yesterday, So was asked whether he would favour any political party given his relationship with the DAB.
'My working philosophy has been practical and impartial. And during my tenure in the government, I've never been involved in the party's affairs,' he replied.
There are plenty of challenges ahead for So - the competition bill, development of the new cruise terminal and reform of RTHK.
Ironically, So's party is threatening to block the proposed competition law unless it is substantially changed to meet its demands, including exempting smaller companies from being regulated and confining the power to initiate a lawsuit only to a future competition commission.
Political parties had mixed views about his appointment.
The DAB, Civic Party and Democratic Party all welcomed it and hoped that So would listen to community voices.
But People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said So should cut his ties with the DAB.
'When Elsie Leung Oi-sie was appointed secretary for justice in 1997, she resigned from the DAB,' he said. Leung was a founding member of the party.
New People's Party legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee did not have high hopes for the new secretary.
'His tenure is only short - he's just a temporary replacement,' she said.