Leung Chun-ying

Chief executive's first year report card mixed

Despite chief executive's rosy self-assessment, polls paint another picture of his performance, with public confidence in his efforts sagging

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 July, 2013, 4:05am

The statistics are hard to argue with - but that's not stopping Leung Chun-ying from trying.

Leung took office as chief executive one year ago today. Nine days later, the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme began its fortnightly survey of public confidence in his leadership.

About 45 per cent of Hongkongers expressed confidence in Leung, the former surveyor and Executive Council convenor who overcame early favourite Henry Tang Ying-yen to become the city's top official. About 41 per cent said they did not have confidence in him.

It remains the only poll in Leung's reign in which the "confident" outnumbered the "not confident" - with the latest poll results no better than a year ago.

Leung's support rating - effectively a mark out of 100 from the public - also fell, from 53.8 points as he took office to 46.2 points.

It's a stark contrast to his predecessors, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Tung Chee-hwa, who each enjoyed an extended honeymoon period.

Tung's support rating stood at a healthy 56 points in July 1998. Tsang, who took over after Tung was forced to quit half way through his second term, enjoyed a 67.2-point rating a year into his term in 2006.

While the poll results might suggest his first year has been a disaster, Leung is keen to play up his government's achievements.

In an unprecedented move, Leung prepared a 29-page report card last week setting out what his administration has done.

"We have resolved or effectively addressed several thorny issues in a short time," the chief executive wrote, listing efforts to curb an influx of mainland women giving birth in the city; a limit on exports of baby milk formula to prevent shortages; putting the brakes on a plan to allow non-permanent residents of Shenzhen multiple-entry permits for Hong Kong; and allaying the threat of H7N9 bird flu.

His report card also outlines government work in key policy areas including the economy, housing, poverty, the ageing society and the environment.

"Of course we will not, and should not, feel complacent," Leung added.

One reason for Leung's lagging poll ratings are the series of scandals and failings that date back even before he took office. After being helped to victory by revelations of a huge, unauthorised basement under the home of his chief rival Tang, Leung was forced to admit that he had illegal structures at his home on The Peak - claims he had earlier denied.

Then there was the arrest, resignation and prosecution of development minister Mak Chai-kwong, who lasted just 12 days in office and was last week convicted of defrauding the government by abusing a civil service housing allowance. Executive Council member Franklin Lam Fan-keung is also under investigation and on indefinite leave of absence after selling two luxury flats a week before property cooling measures were announced.

Most recently, Leung's close ally Barry Cheung Chun-yuen was forced to quit Exco as police investigated his failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange.

A dramatic 12 months also saw Leung criticised for allowing a mainland official to play a key role in the aftermath of the October 1 ferry tragedy off Lamma.

He attracted scorn for his failure to answer questions about whistle-blower Edward Snowden's flight to Hong Kong, although his government has won praise locally for its overall handling of the case.

Huge protests in September that derailed plans for compulsory national education classes in schools and recent controversy over plans to expand landfill sites also overshadowed Leung's achievements.

Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung-kai said the public was deeply disappointed with Leung's performance.

Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said Leung had tried to tackle several deep-rooted problems, but some of his decisions were rash and ended up causing more problems than they solved.

He cited the introduction of the buyers' stamp duty to cool the property market and the baby milk formula ban as examples. "These measures might earn him some rare applause but we should be more wary of their long-term impact," he said.

Li Pang-kwong, director of the public governance programme at Lingnan University, said a lack of public trust was the key to Leung's predicament, and that was compounded by the fact that Leung's major policies - such as those in housing - would have no obvious immediate impact.

"The public discontent for the past year has been less about conflicts in wealth distribution and more from a broken link in mutual trust between the public and the government," he said. "Hence the public questions the basis of every policy the government puts forward, which makes it very difficult to govern."

Li warned that restoring trust had to be a top priority for Leung in the rest of his term.