Paul Chan, a man determined to rise above poverty

Born to a squatter family, Paul Chan's focus in his early life was to improve his living conditions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 July, 2013, 5:00am

In the last political crisis he faced just days after his appointment as development minister last July, Paul Chan Mo-po sought to reassure Hongkongers that he was devoted to public service.

"Serving the society is the primary goal of the second half of my life," he told reporters then, as he rejected calls for his resignation over accusations he was involved in a venture that rented out subdivided flats.

A year on, Chan, 58, is embroiled in yet another controversy - this time over his family's investments in New Territories agricultural land included in government development plans.

Chan, the former head of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants, probably never anticipated the bumpy road of public service when he won his seat in the legislature in 2008.

Born to a family living in the Shek Kip Mei squatter area, the first half of Chan's life was one of poverty. "Being from the bottom of the society, I was often looked down upon when I was young," he once said.

But material deprivation also gave him a clear direction in life: to rise above the poverty he was born into.

In the early 80s, he put himself on the fast track towards obtaining the qualifications to become an accountant. He also studied for a master's degree in business administration.

At work, he would switch jobs as long as his new employer offered him better pay.

Serving the society is the primary goal of the second half of my life

In a 2006 interview with Next Magazine, Chan said he worked very hard in his younger days, hoping to lift his family out of their poverty and to improve their living conditions.

But while his hard work did pay off and he became better off, his mother died of brain cancer in 1984 while his sister - who managed to obtain a law degree despite being ill - died of complications from an undisclosed hereditary disease in 1997. "Yes, I have come to the top, but what now?" he said.

Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, vicar-general of the Catholic diocese, who knew Chan through his charity work for Caritas before he became a lawmaker, yesterday described the development minister as "neither a bad guy nor a greedy man".

"Perhaps [Chan] has failed to handle [these controversies] wisely, but he is sincere," said Yeung. "I hope the matter can be resolved soon."