Row over Central Policy Unit shows up Leung's leadership

Albert Cheng says the chief executive's credibility is now being undermined with attacks from both inside and outside the government

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 2:21am

It looks like Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has been backed into a corner now that he is being attacked from both inside and outside the administration.

Just when recent polls showed his approval ratings were rising slightly, an unexpected "attack" has come from his much-trusted Central Policy Unit's head, Shiu Sin-por, who is supposed to report directly to him.

Shiu recently sought to create a new position at the government think tank to monitor public opinion, which drew criticism that the unit was trying to shape public opinion.

It is just another sign that Leung is destroying the government's consultation system. And with the administration now facing constant criticism, Hong Kong's core values are being eroded.

It would appear that Leung cannot even put his own house in order.

Some of the pledges he put forward during election campaigning, such as seeking change while maintaining stability, have become a political laughing stock, seriously affecting the integrity of government policymaking.

Many of his supporters, especially those from the younger generation who had pinned their hopes on him, have turned against him. This prompted Shiu to say that the government needs to engage in public relations battles to drum up support for its policies, and heed views expressed in the new media about its policies.

We don't know how effective Shiu's latest strategy would be, but it would certainly further alienate Leung from his young supporters.

Leung doesn't seem to understand that Hong Kong people want more than just being able to put food on the table or have a roof over their heads. To them, especially the young, it's about being able to attain one's dreams as well as the common values accepted and respected by democratic societies the world over.

And, while Leung struggles keep to his own house in order, he has also been finding it difficult to recruit talented people to join his government.

One example is housing adviser Michael Choi Ngai-min, who is chairman of Land Power International. Choi recently made headlines by suggesting that a Kai Tak site reserved for a sports stadium be used for public housing.

It seems Choi wasn't Leung's first choice. If Leung had wanted a top adviser on property, surely his No 1 choice would have been Centaline Property Agency's founding boss Shih Wing-ching. Shih also owns the highly popular free daily - AM 730. So, having Shih on his team would have been ideal.

On top of the problem of a less-than-ideal governing team, some of Leung's top officials seem to have hidden agendas. Combative Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been expanding her power, for one. Most recently, she was named chairwoman of the reconvened Commission on Poverty. The commission has been one of Leung's main priorities and Lam now seems to be trying to steal the limelight.

Leung also seems less involved in some other significant areas of governance, for example, in financial policies and economic and monetary affairs. Keeping a tight grip on these major policy areas are Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Chan Ka-keung and Monetary Authority chief executive Norman Chan Tak-lam.

Tsang might have kept a low profile of late, but he is understood to be highly regarded by Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office director Wang Guangya, who has given him a free hand.

Even the ultra-left members on Leung's team, such as Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing and policy adviser Shiu, don't seem to give him much respect.

Leung's recent appointment of Sophia Kao Ching-chi as a full-time member of the Central Policy Unit was another grave mistake. He gave her wide-ranging powers to scrutinise the recruitment of members to all government advisory bodies. But has Leung considered public opinion as well as the reactions from within the civil service?

Most ridiculous was Shiu's comment that the Central Policy Unit is neither independent nor neutral. He stressed that the governance team is never neutral, either. Yet, the Civil Service Code says otherwise; it covers all full-time members of the policy unit, which means they are part of the civil service, which must remain politically neutral.

Shiu should remember that the unit is funded by the government and is accountable to the chief executive, the chief secretary and the financial secretary. It serves as a policy research unit, not a political tool.

Leung is definitely caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment, with enemies on all sides. It won't take half a million protesters taking to the streets to force him out of office; his own people are slowly doing it already.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.