Christine Loh aside, C.Y. Leung's appointees fail to inspire confidence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 1:29am

Leung Chun-ying appears to be fully aware of the sensitivity involved in choosing his ruling team members. Instead of following his predecessor to introduce the lower-tier appointees in a press conference in one go, the embattled chief executive opts for a different strategy. Following the announcement of two undersecretaries with a press release earlier, the government released the names of another five appointees. The piecemeal approach is hardly surprising, as public trust in the new leadership has dipped to a new low. With some of his lieutenants still battling one crisis after another, a high profile approach may backfire.

The mixed reactions to the latest appointments are to be expected. Apart from Christine Loh Kung-wai, the others are former appointees or drawn from within the civil service. The lack of new faces suggests recruitment of political talent from outside the government remains a challenge.

Leung may feel relieved that Loh's appointment as the undersecretary for the environment appears to have been well received. Well known for her innovative thinking and rich experience in legislative work and policy research, the former lawmaker is arguably more qualified than her boss Wong Kam-sing, a green architect with no political credentials. Beijing's tolerance of a strong pro-democracy figure like Loh in the ruling team is also seen by many as a welcome breakthrough.

But the recruitment of a popular figure cannot resolve the fundamental problems. Introduced in 2002 and expanded further to include two lower tiers four years ago, the ministerial system aims to boost accountability and nurture political leaders by opening up the top positions to outsiders. In reality, civil servants remain the core of the team. The decision to turn deputy police commissioner John Lee Ka-chiu into the deputy security chief does not live up to the spirit of tapping into the private sector. The re-appointment of three old faces from the previous government, one of whom has taken a major pay cut to stay, has also weakened confidence.

It is disappointing that the political framework put in place after the handover has not made any noticeable improvement in formulating policies and responding to people's aspirations. The mediocre performance of some appointees has further reinforced the perception that they are not value for money. A lot more has to be done to convince the public that the system can improve governance as promised.