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Executive Council appointments a step up in credibility for Hong Kong’s government

After the new chief executive struggled to find people for her cabinet, at least her selection for Exco has some members with gravitas

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 12:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 June, 2017, 2:34am

A day after Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor introduced her underwhelming line-up of new policy chiefs, her latest Executive Council selection proves to be more exciting. Of the 16 non-official seats, she has managed to woo a few figures with gravitas and credibility.

As it has been long rumoured, a bona fide pan-democrat, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, has finally joined the ranks. Joseph Yam Chi-kwong, former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, is what Lam would call “a pleasant surprise”. Well known for his intellectual arrogance, he is one of the few public officials, former and current, who has a keen understanding of economic policies in Hong Kong and on the mainland.

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As Hong Kong’s population ages rapidly, setting an effective policy that responses to new demographic demands is all the more pressing. By getting Lam Ching-choi, chairman of the Elderly Commission, into Exco, it signals the new government recognises the “silver challenge”.

Interestingly, there are already mindless attacks from Tong’s former comrades, claiming he doesn’t represent pan-democrats. The most bitter words come from Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, the lawmaker and Tong’s former Civic Party colleague. Of course, Yeung is among those who have been pushing traditional mainstream pan-democrats into the radical fringe. Among his many misjudgments has been his support for discredited lawmakers and secessionists Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

If the pro-democracy movement is to have a future, it’s with moderates like Tong, rather than with those like Yeung, Yau and Leung. Tong will be well complemented by Bernard Chan, Lam’s campaign manager and the new Exco convener, who is a moderate from the pro-establishment side. Since 1997, Exco has lost its role as a government cabinet under the British colonial system. Instead, it has become more like a consultative or advisory body. Worse, many members still seem to be there as a reward for loyalty rather than for their professional expertise.

But the new set-up with some strong and independent people may mean an opportunity to restore its role as the highest body to deliberate and approve government policies. As practically every vested interest, major economic sector and political grouping have a seat on the new Exco, their collective decisions will hopefully represent genuine consensus from a cross-section of society.

Well, that is probably too much to hope for. But the new Exco at least raises greater expectations than Lam’s policy secretaries.