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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

It’s up to our two new ministers to rise to the challenges ahead

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Paul Chan Mo-po have big shoes to fill when they take over as chief secretary and finance secretary respectively. How they fare will determine their political futures

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 3:58am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 3:58am

A major cabinet reshuffle is arguably the last thing a sunset government needs. But with both the chief secretary and the financial secretary having resigned to run in the chief executive race, leaving their posts unfilled in the remaining five months in power would be far from ideal. After all, they are the two most senior ministerial posts in the Hong Kong government. The appointments of Matthew Cheung Kin-chung and Paul Chan Mo-po are therefore justified.

Cheung is the natural choice for chief secretary. Having worked his way up in the civil service over the past 45 years, his experience is as solid as his credentials. As one of the longest serving members of the ministerial team, he has taken up the chief secretary’s portfolio on an acting basis from time to time. His leadership and political skills have also been tried and tested, as reflected in the introduction of the minimum wage. He also earned praise for tackling poverty and welfare issues.

New Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung’s 45-year climb from information officer to minister

As the government’s No 2, Cheung will have much more on his plate, from cooperation with the mainland to executive-legislative relations. Adding to the challenge are the increasingly hostile political environment and growing cross-border conflicts. That requires even greater political skills and acumen.

The new financial secretary has even bigger shoes to fill. Chan, a former accountant, quickly became the target of attack when he was handpicked by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to be the deputy financial secretary, a post he never took up because Leung never managed to put it in place. Then, when he was later appointed to succeed a scandal-hit development minister, he also became embroiled in a series of controversies over his family investments, so much so that he became one of the least popular members of the ministerial team. The negative public perception somehow does not do him justice. During his four-and-a-half-year-stint, he has identified more than enough private land for housing in the coming years. His work style is also generally well received among colleagues.

Is Paul Chan qualified to handle Hong Kong’s coffers?

That said, there is more to the finance chief’s job than just balancing the books. As the minister in charge of the world’s 9th largest trading economy, there are big expectations of Chan. His predecessor had been criticised for being too conservative in public finance. The upcoming government budget will be a good opportunity for Chan to prove himself. The coming months are the de facto probation period for Chan and Cheung. How they rise to the challenge will affect their future political careers.