Political survivor faces a new test
Greg So has been no stranger to controversy as commerce minister, and is in the thick of it again over the denial of a licence for HKTV
Even before finding himself embroiled in the political maelstrom over the government's decision to deny a free-to-air licence to Hong Kong Television Network, Greg So Kam-leung found himself at the heart of many a political row.
Yet the lawyer-turned-politician has always managed to shake off such difficulties and continue his rise through the political ranks, becoming secretary for commerce and economic development in 2011.
So was one of the first batch of undersecretaries and political assistants appointed in 2008, when the government expanded the ministerial system by appointing two extra tiers of officials. He is the only member of that batch to be promoted to head a bureau, and the first person to achieve this rank while retaining a political affiliation - to the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. He was once its vice-chairman.
So's rise came despite controversy over his Canadian passport, an accusation that he took advantage of his official title, and the fact he has had to deal with some tricky policies.
But the public furore over his handling of the fallout of the HKTV decision raises the question of whether this political survivor's luck will run out.
So announced on October 15 that the chief executive and Executive Council had decided to grant licences to existing cable-television players i-Cable and PCCW while snubbing HKTV, a high-profile attempt to break into the television market by telecoms billionaire Ricky Wong Wai-kay.
The decision and a subsequent refusal to explain in detail how it was made led to criticism over transparency, with Exco's dealings derided as "black-box" decision making by critics.
An estimated 80,000 people joined a protest at government headquarters two weeks later and a sit-in ensued.
Pressure continues to mount as 10 HKTV staff remain camped outside the government offices in Admiralty.
They have pledged to remain at least until lawmakers vote on a proposal to invoke the Legislative Council's investigative powers to examine the decision.
If the proposal from pan-democrat Charles Mok is approved, So is likely to stay in the spotlight for some time yet.
As the point man for the government's broadcasting policy, So's reaction to the mass rally and the HKTV staff protest has raised eyebrows. At one point, he appeared close to tears as he talked about the 320 staff Wong made redundant following the licensing decision.
So later said he had been "touched by the staff", but HKTV supporters were unimpressed. As Wong put it: "As an actor one needs emotion, but as a minister it is not important how sentimental he is."
DAB chairman Tam Yiu-chung countered: "He is a devout Christian … he was simply touched by the HKTV staff at that moment." He said So, 55, had a senior role in his church.
So joined the DAB in 1996, seven years after returning from Canada where he had lived since his teens and met his wife.
He retained a low public profile until May 2008, when he was appointed undersecretary at the commerce bureau.
Since then, however, he has rarely been out of the spotlight.
Days after his appointment, pressure mounted over his Canadian passport as critics questioned the commitment of political appointees with foreign rights of abode. So later gave up his Canadian citizenship.
Less than a year later, he came under fire for attempting to use his government business card as proof of income for his Filipino maid's work-permit application.
Despite the blunders, he was handed the top job when former commerce chief Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan resigned in April 2011 on health grounds. Even then there was controversy. The government spent three months searching for a replacement for Lau, only to turn to her deputy.
Some speculated that So was chosen because civil servants were unwilling to swap a permanent job for a political role.
While Tam praised So as "serious and responsible", one acquaintance from his legal career said the minister had changed since reaching the top.
"Since becoming the commerce minister, So has become more arrogant and will not even say hello when we run into each other," the person said.
Policies that have fallen into So's domain have proved no less controversial. Pro-government parties, including the DAB, once called for the competition bill he championed to be scrapped.
But he survived all these blows and secured another five-year term from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last year. Now, he stands in the eye of another political storm. How it develops will - to a certain extent - hinge on the crucial Legco investigation vote on Wednesday.
Greg So Kam-leung
Political affiliation: Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong
Marital status: Married, with one son and two daughters
1980: BA economics, Carleton University, Canada
1984: LLB, University of Ottawa, Canada
1984: MBA, University of Ottawa, Canada
1989: Starts legal practice in Hong Kong
1996: Joins the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong
2008: Appointed undersecretary for commerce and economic development
2011: Appointed secretary for commerce and economic development