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Former minister Fred Ma says Leung Chun-ying's team should be given more time

Former minister Frederick Ma knows of what he speaks when he says the beleaguered chief executive should be given more time to prove himself

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 August, 2013, 3:52am

His political career was just a few weeks old when, in July 2002, Frederick Ma Si-hang was drawn into a crisis that threatened his position as secretary for financial services and the treasury.

A Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing consultation document suggested delisting stocks that had traded at less than 50 Hong Kong cents for 30 consecutive days, as well as those of companies that had reported three straight years of losses.

Within a day, the price of some stocks had plunged almost 90 per cent, and more than HK$10 billion was wiped off the value of the exchange. Fingers were soon pointed at the new minister, whom stockbrokers said should have stopped publication of the incendiary report.

"I was really like a newborn baby, being thrown in at the deep end," recalls Ma, who was plucked from an executive job at PCCW to join the government. "In the first week of my tenure I was heavily criticised by [then lawmaker] Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee. I came from the commercial world … I didn't even know how the Legislative Council worked!"

An inquiry into the "penny stocks affair" criticised Ma and other officials but declined to apportion blame.

His advisors were divided on whether he should apologise, but on September 11, 2002, with a No8 typhoon warning flying, he decided to convene a press conference, bowed deeply and told the assembled journalists he "accepts wholeheartedly the criticisms made by the public and in the report".

Soon after, he was named least popular politician in a Chinese University survey. But the apology was enough to ensure his survival, and by the time he resigned six years later on health grounds, Ma was one of the most popular members of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's team.

With that in mind, Ma has watched with interest the scandals surrounding members of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's year-old administration.

"A few ministers are at the bottom of the water," he says. "I don't know whether these babies will make their way to the surface and become great swimmers.

"But if you want to make your way up, you have to make your best effort regarding political wisdom, communication and emotional intelligence."

It took him years, he recalls, to rebuild his relationship with lawmakers and the media.

"One of the first things I did was to communicate with lawmakers … you have to show them you can get things done and are not afraid of failing.

"There are more difficult lawmakers: you can either ask your assistant or a civil servant to take care of him, or you can choose to [talk to him] in person to win his support - I chose the latter," Ma said. "Because these are influential figures in Legco, it is better for them to say nice things about you than trying to say a hundred words yourself."

Ma acknowledges the political atmosphere has changed with the emergence of new political groupings, a "more aggressive" media environment and the expansion of Legco from 60 seats to 70. While those changes have made the government's job harder, he says ministers can still learn from his experience when it comes to building relationships.

His experience has made him more "forgiving and encouraging" of the present government than its critics. And having known Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for decades, he believes he will have enough support from Beijing to see out his five-year term.

"I think he has to try harder," Ma says, adding there are signs of hope in the fact that "he is starting to … liaise more frequently with different political parties".

He declined to give further advice for Leung, saying only: "We have each other's phone number, so he can call me any time."

Ma adds: "I am still convinced he is devoted to and want to get things done for Hong Kong."

The latest University of Hong Kong public opinion programme poll showed Leung's popularity has hit a new low since he called for report on teacher Alpais Lam Wai-sze, who was caught on video shouting abuse at police over their handling of a clash between Falun Gong supporters and a pro-Beijing group.

Ma says he believes that far from wanting to attack the teacher, Leung wants the report to draw a line under the affair.

"Hongkongers seem more and more focused on issues such as … individuals' remarks, unpleasant behaviour or rivalry among different groups. But we tend to ignore the major issues," he says.

Ma looked back to the 1990s when, as a director of Japanese construction giant Kumagai Gumi's Hong Kong operation, he saw the huge airport core programme completed in just six years. "Nowadays you can ask yourself, what did we do in the last six years?" he says. "If you don't do things, other fast-growing economies including Singapore will catch up."

Ma recalled a meeting in 2004 with Lee Hsien Loong, then Singapore's deputy prime minister, now prime minister. Lee told him his government had decided to push ahead with casinos "because Hong Kong was growing fast in many aspects, including tourism, so Singapore must do something, otherwise our economy will lag behind".

Ma laments that while Singapore is thriving, it could take years for minor works like a promenade on Lantau to be completed, and the start of construction on the first building for the West Kowloon Cultural District, due next month, comes 15 years after the idea was first mooted.

He believes something must be done to boost Hong Kong's social and economic momentum, and that people should give Leung more time to solve deep-rooted problems.

"I was also heavily criticised during my first year in office," Ma says. "I hope that when the political storm gradually subsides, the impression people have of Leung will not be that bad. Let us give him some time."

 

Fred Ma's multiple roles

Age: 61

Posts: Honorary professor, school of economics and finance, University of Hong Kong; professor of finance, Polytechnic University; non-executive director, Husky Energy, Hutchison Port Holdings, Agricultural Bank of China, Aluminum Corporation of China, China Mobile, and the MTR Corporation.

Education: Economics and history degree from the University of Hong Kong

Career: 1973-1980 Credit analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank, Hong Kong and New York; 1980-90 Works at securities house Pitfield MacKay Ross & Co, which later becomes RBC Dominion Securities; 1990-98 Executive director and later managing director, Kumagai Gumi (HK); 1998-2001 Asia-Pacific managing director for global private banking at Chase Manhattan; 2001-02 Executive director, PCCW; 2002-07 Secretary for financial services and the treasury; 2007-08 Secretary for commerce and economic development; 2009-12 non-executive director and chairman, China Strategic Holdings

 

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This article is now closed to comments

charlli
Well self contradiciting. Giving more time to a person loved bolding up on trival issue. Maybe foul languages deserved to be investigated by senior police force.To build trust, central govt remove him with any another one. Anyone would be better and HK people will applause loud and return high confidence to central govt sharply.
Another Social Critics...
Another Long-Term Un-Employed seeking for Positions from that 'CY' & Its Related Group...!!!???
Look How Close to that Chow Yung to seek for Position as 'Director of Broadcasting'...!!!
Which Position You'll like to be Posted...!!!???
Post of that Paul Chan, if very Reluctantly be Dismissed from 'CY', due to present Un-Bearable / Negative-Asset nature under 'CY''s Group...!!!???
See What'll be Happening...!!!???
Acclaimed as a faithful Christian...!!!???
How come You see 'Nothing' on How Black-Heartedly that 'CY' & Its Related Group are...
Damaging HK's Peoples, its Best-Interest & Future...!!!
Belongs as one of HK's Celebrities...Your Response to that 'CY' & Its Related Group are...
Ruining your Spirits as Christian, as well as, your Intention to got Profiteering in Returns...!!!
Save-up your life Efforts, to be healthly Retired. to be involved in more Charitable activities in returns to the Community...Not Commercial Oriented!!!
May God Bless You...
SpeakFreely
Well said Ma! ""Hongkongers seem more and more focused on issues such as … individuals' remarks, unpleasant behaviour or rivalry among different groups. But we tend to ignore the major issues," he says."
This is exactly what I have been saying Hk people are too focusing on non issues or not focusing on our main issue, too name a few: aging population, pollution, housing, huge poor rich gap, competitiveness, lack of innovation, too much relied on finance and housing industry, etc ...
Example, We spend weeks and weeks to talk about snowdon, trying to be a world police! the teacher Lam, etc but non of these are related to our main issue. This is similar to a failing person who has no idea to solve his or her own problems but just wasting time to work on unrelated issue. Basically is to avoid thinking or solving the problems. This is HK....
henleyhk
How strange that someone calling themselves SpeakFreely would suggest that Ms Lam's right as a private citizen to free speech is a "non issue." The problem that Mr Ma and others appear not to see is that the political and constitutional machinery HK has to make decisions about issues is broken. Ordinary people believe that HK is run for the benefit of its plutocrats and oligarchs and that the administration is unaccountable and corrupt. They see injustice and feel deep-seated resentment. These are the real issues. Once these have been successfully addressed, resolution of livelihood issues, environmental issues and the rest will follow relatively easily because there will be a consensual, accountable framework in place. Whether our oppressors in BJ will let us have that framework is another matter completely. They have a different agenda.
SpeakFreely
In the past 10 years, Hk has done nothing to solve problems related to housing, aging population, pollution, etc...look at HK,in the past say 20 years, we don't have a decent locally raised IPO ! That's mean we don't have new locally raised company. I meant decent IPO with mkt cap of USD 1B and above....all major IPO are from outside HK. Would u worry?
Asynsis
Bravo Fred Ma, the voice of reason combined with that of a visionary regarding
enhancing Hong Kong's relative competitive position in the region.
Glad to see you're well and thriving!
 
 
 
 
 

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