More trouble ahead as Paul Chan stays on, say analysts
The development minister may have avoided stepping down, but analysts expect more problems to surface over the new town projects
With development minister Paul Chan Mo-po staying in his post, the government may have avoided a damaging domino effect in its line-up of principal officials, analysts say.
But they believe the hard-earned stability may come at the expense of more trouble for the proposed new town projects in the northeast New Territories, one of which is at the centre of the recent row that has engulfed Chan because of his family's investment in the land.
One says the crisis may even leave the government crippled for the rest of its term.
Dr Li Pang-kwong, director of Lingnan University's public governance programme, said the administration faced a dilemma over whether to dispose of Chan in the conflict-of-interest row.
The government might have weighed the price it had to pay for keeping him and concluded it was more politically affordable than the option of doing away with him, given the earlier departures of other top officials, including Chan's predecessor, Li said.
"It might have been simple for Chan to step down, but it would have been difficult for the whole government. If Chan had quit, the authority of Leung's administration would plunge further," he said.
But retaining Chan meant even more obstacles ahead for the already controversial new towns at Kwu Tung North and Fanling North, Li said. Yet it would not have made sense to remove the minister from overseeing the developments as it was a primary task of his post.
Political commentator Ivan Choy Chi-keung said progress on the new towns would be enormously difficult from now on, and more confrontations were expected.
The twin towns are scheduled to be ready to house people by 2031, and up to HK$120 billion will be spent on the project, including billions of dollars on land resumption - some of it on the plot of Kwu Tung farmland formerly owned by Chan and his family. "The development itself already embodies lots of interests. It will not be surprising to see more confrontations when land has to be resumed. I would say the difficulties will be much greater than taking Tsoi Yuen Tsuen," Choy said.
Residents of the western New Territories' Tsoi Yuen Tsuen strongly resisted the taking of their land for the cross-border express rail project. The issue was resolved only when the government agreed to relocate their village and offered them higher cash compensation.
Choy said Chan staying on might have avoided causing a domino effect on other principal officials, but it also meant the government - already having trouble pushing through its policies - would become more crippled than ever. "It is very likely that the Leung Chun-ying government will achieve nothing for its rest of the term," he said.
The Civil Human Rights Front will march from Causeway Bay to the government headquarters in Admiralty at 3pm on Sunday to demand for Leung and Chan to resign. "[Chan] had a serious integrity problem [as shown from his] covering up his potential interest in the policy he handled," the front said. "He lacks the moral standard required of government officials."