My Take

Exco risks fading into political irrelevance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 1:29am

If Executive Council member Franklin Lam Fan-keung had wanted to spare the council embarrassment, he should have quit when official investigations were first launched into his dealings in the sale of two family flats. Now that he has been cleared by prosecutors and the ICAC, he might be expected to stay on. Instead, he calls it quits. Is he protesting against the perceived persecution of him by selected media outlets and political groups? Or could he just have had enough?

Officials and supporters warn that his travails and resignation will discourage other talented people from joining the government. But his pussyfooting says something about his suitability as a member of the chief executive's "cabinet" in the first place. He is not irreplaceable in Exco. His expertise is in housing and the property market. His greatest call appeared to be advising rich clients to go into the property market while working as a banker and finance adviser.

Well, many Hong Kong people with spare cash were speculating in property in the past few years, so that hardly qualifies as deep market insight. It's only in Hong Kong that people who help blow a market bubble to enrich themselves and their friends are considered "experts".

His departure from Exco follows that of Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, a close ally and election campaign manager for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Cheung quit Exco in May after police investigations were launched over the failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange of which he was the founder. Repeated controversies embroiling Exco members and the recruitment of political lightweights to a government organ once considered the apex of the political system have led critics to question the role of Exco at a time when Hong Kong is undergoing rapid political and social changes.

Exco used to be a genuine power centre during the colonial era because its members represented the colony's powerful interests such as the British hongs, HSBC, and the Jockey Club. After the handover, different power centres such as the property tycoons had a direct line to Beijing. Unless Exco can function as a real cabinet under constitutional reform, it risks being increasingly irrelevant.