Rafael Hui

Fall of 'king of strategy'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 4:06pm


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He briefly worked with the graft-busters during the Independent Commission Against Corruption's toughest days in the 1970s. But yesterday, former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan found himself on the other side of the fence, as a target of an ICAC investigation.

With political nous that earned him the nickname 'king of strategy', the 64-year-old veteran civil servant was seen as the most trusted aide to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who entrusted him with the city's No2 job after he was elected in 2005.

Tsang described Hui - who kept a deliberately low profile at the helm of Tsang's administration - as someone he could work well with, with the seniority to lead the governing team.

He was also seen as a close friend of his successor as chief secretary, Henry Tang Ying-yen, and observers were shocked that he was not named as a key strategist in Tang's ill-fated campaign for chief executive.

His arrest yesterday, along with brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen of the Sun Hung Kai Properties empire, rocked the city.

Hui, who is said to have advised Tsang during the 1997 Asian financial crisis to take action and stabilise the market, had hoped to be remembered as Hong Kong's steady hand in a time of crisis. Now his otherwise luminous career appears to be in ruins.

James Sung Lap-kung, a political observer at City University, said the corruption investigation was a severe blow to Hui's reputation as well as that of the government.

'Coupled with what happened to Tsang, who is also under investigation by the ICAC for receiving hospitality from tycoons, the two most powerful people in the government [from 2005 to 2007] have been involved in corruption allegations. It's inevitable the public will cast doubt on the government's determination to remain clean,' Sung said.

'Hui was born into an influential Macau family. The public might wonder if relations between the government officials and businessmen were too close.'

One former colleague said he was astonished to learn of Hui's arrest. 'Hui is obviously a very smart person. As a former colleague, I just hope he will be fine,' said Joseph Wong Wing-ping, who worked under chief secretary Hui as secretary for commerce, industry and technology.

Hui first quit the government in 2000 to lead the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, before launching a political consultancy business in 2003. His ties with SHKP came to light in 2004, when he was hired to advise the developer on its tender for the West Kowloon arts hub project. He was also appointed to the board of Sun Hung Kai subsidiary Kowloon Motor Bus.

Hui began his climb through the civil service ranks in 1971 when he became a junior education officer after graduating from the University of Hong Kong. He worked his way up, via a spell in an administrative post with the ICAC, to oversee the construction of Chek Lap Kok airport in the 1990s, amid much wrangling between the British colonial administration and Beijing.

He became financial services chief before the 1997 handover and remained in the post when the city's currency peg came under attack from speculators amid economic turmoil in 1998. He was among the first to urge Tsang, then financial secretary, to fend off the speculators and worked with former Monetary Fund chief Joseph Yam Chi-kwong to pump HK$118 billion into the markets. Hui's reform efforts in the wake of the financial crisis led to him being acclaimed as the best policy secretary of his day.

One of his last achievements in government also led to controversy over his private-sector career. He steered through the creation of the MPF to provide retirement provision for three million workers, but his decision to take the HK$4 million post leading the body overseeing the scheme led to claims that he had tailor-made the role for himself.

He attracted more concern on his return to government in 2005. His new job involved steering the West Kowloon development, and his ties with Sun Hung Kai led to conflict of interest worries. Sun Hung Kai, along with its partner Cheung Kong, was one of the favourites to land the deal to develop the site, until the government bowed to public opposition in 2006 and scrapped the idea of awarding the contract to a single bidder.

Hui was also reported to have maintained close links to Sun Hung Kai's principals. In 2008, he was alleged to have suggested to the group's vice-chairmen Thomas and Raymond Kwok that they force their elder brother, the group's chairman and chief executive at the time Walter Kwok Ping-sheung to take a 'leave of absence'. Sun Hung Kai later issued a statement saying Hui had not taken up any role with the group.

Hui retired as chief secretary after Tsang's re-election in 2007, but served as a member of the Executive Council and was also awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal. He was appointed to the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and was a member of the Election Committee that selected Leung last week.

Hui, who was chief strategist for Tsang's election campaign in 2007, under campaign manager and now HKMA chief Norman Chan Tak-lam, never explained why he stayed away from Tang's campaign. His absence was felt hard as the campaign struggled to cope after Tang admitted being unfaithful to his wife.

Outside work, Hui was active in horse racing and served as a steward of the Jockey Club. He owned several horses, the last of which was Why Not, which he sold earlier this year.

He betrayed a conservative streak in his youth when, as a schoolboy, he wrote an essay condemning the James Bond books as pornographic because of the spy's liking for casual sex. His cultural preference was always for opera and classical music.

It's inevitable the public will cast doubt on the government's determination to remain clean James Sung Lap-kung, political observer


The number of years of public service Rafael Hui had racked up by the time he left government in 2007