When public bodies are all in the family

Two families exert almost “hereditary” control over the sports sector and rural affairs in Hong Kong and through that exert influence over the broader body politic as well

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 12:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 August, 2016, 12:41am

Hong Kong looks like a modern city from the outside. But seen close-up, many areas of public life are divided into something like private serfdoms as in so many developing countries. I leave aside publicly listed companies controlled by our ageing tycoons and their families. That’s a long-standing problem and has been much debated. But at least they are in the private sector.

Public bodies, however, are a different matter. Here, I will just cite two examples: the sports sector and rural affairs. The former has long been dominated by Timothy Fok Tsun-ting as president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, as well as that of the Hong Kong Football Association. The latter are represented by the Heung Yee Kuk, which had been for 35 years lorded over by rural kingpin Lau Wong-fat. The succession, however, has been recently completed with his son Kenneth Lau Ip-keung having taken over his chairmanship.

In 2012, the elder Lau said he would not like his son to succeed him as kuk chairman because “doing so will draw criticism that I am treating the kuk as a family endeavour”.

“A family endeavour”? You don’t say.

Heung Yee Kuk eyes political party for New Territories villagers

Thanks to his position as kuk chairman, the younger Lau looks set to take up seats in the Legislative Council next month and the election committee for the chief executive next year. Beside Lau’s “hereditary” seat, the kuk has 25 others on the 1,200-strong election committee; if you ever wonder why successive chief executives seem to bend over backwards to placate the kuk … Meanwhile, the succession plan for Fok’s favoured son Kenneth Fok Kai-kong is already in motion.

As vice-president of the federation and Olympic committee, young Fok has now been sent to Rio de Janeiro for the high-profile job of chef de mission for the Hong Kong team. But why him? His chief athletic achievement is that he is married to six-time Olympic medallist diver Guo Jingjing. Perhaps like any hereditary system, marriage confers legitimacy.

Young Fok looks set to inherit daddy’s key sports posts. The old man is already 70. When that happens, junior will likely take over his Legco seat for sports as well.

It’s bad enough these families control those public bodies like serfdoms but through them, they exert influence over the broader body politic as well.