Andrew Fung: Democratic Party poacher turns government gatekeeper
Andrew Fung aspired to be a Democratic Party lawmaker. Instead, he's taking on the tough challenge of handling the media for C.Y. Leung
After almost two decades as a stalwart of the Democratic Party and a turbulent year spent trying to join the government, Andrew Fung Wai-kwong today begins his unlikely new career as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's point man for media relations.
But Fung's old colleagues on the Southern District Council say he should not be written off - even though he has a mountain to climb to convince his critics from across the political spectrum that he is up to the job.
Since reports emerged two months ago that he would become Leung's information coordinator, Fung's former allies in the pan-democratic camp have taken every opportunity to pour scorn on his abilities.
They were helped by an incident in early October, when Fung's public relations consultancy PR Concepts took the rap for producing faulty ballot papers that brought chaos to the Arts Development Council's election.
Fung, 52, was pilloried online when he promised to respond to speculation about his new job "in three words" - then cited a four-word Chinese idiom meaning "no comment". He was also mocked for comparing his new job to that of the White House press secretary.
Fung's private life became a subject for gossip: commentators dug up a column he wrote in 2010 bemoaning his difficulties in finding a girlfriend and the "misery" of being a bachelor in his late 40s. He remains unmarried.
Despite the jokes and the bungling, Fung's appointment became official on December 3, when a government spokesman hailed his "experience in public relations and political work" and said the administration was "confident that he would be able to excel in the position".
Even that seemingly glowing statement caused speculation; Fung's predecessors June Teng Wai-kwan and Andy Ho On-tat were both described as having a "wealth of experience" when they were welcomed to the job.
But Au Lap-sing, an independent Southern District councillor, warned against rushing to judge his fellow councillor.
"I don't know whether he's competent … but he would have made a careful assessment before making the decision [to take the job]," Au said. "It is a huge challenge for him to join the government under the current political environment, after all."
Chan Fu-ming, the council's vice-chairman, said Fung had delivered on some of his constituents' demands.
"I applaud him for having the courage to join the administration … and I hope he can do well," Chan said. "It will take extra effort as the atmosphere is getting relatively radical nowadays."
Chan said Fung's council career showed he could prove the doubters wrong. He won the election for South Horizons in Ap Lei Chau in 2007, four years after losing in an adjoining constituency.
After unseating independent Law Kam-hung in 2007, Fung held onto his seat in a close, four-horse race, finishing just 12 votes ahead of rival Jeff Sze Chun-fai of the New People's Party.
That was one of the highlights of Fung's years with the Democratic Party. It even prompted him to consider running for the Legislative Council last year on the slate of the party he co-founded in 1994. He was a member of Meeting Point, which merged with the United Democrats to form the new party.
Although the party opted against putting Fung forward for Legco, it continued to support him - not least when he accused People Power legislator Wong Yuk-man of punching him during a visit to Taipei in January last year to observe preparations for Taiwan's presidential election.
Former party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan condemned the violence, while vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said she was disgusted by the attack.
Relations between the Democrats and Fung soured five months later when it was revealed Fung had applied for a post as an undersecretary in Leung's administration. Accused of betraying colleagues, Fung quit the party days after reports emerged that he wanted to work for the man who beat Ho and Henry Tang Ying-yen to the top job. He argued that the party's platform did not restrict members from joining the government. But Ho countered that party rules made it clear that a member must obtain approval before seeking a public position.
Only after he quit the party did Fung admit writing to Leung as early as May to seek a position in the Home Affairs Bureau or the proposed cultural bureau. He revealed he had known Leung for "almost 30 years".
Pan-democrats scuppered the cultural bureau with a filibuster at the end of the legislative session, and Florence Hui Hiu-fai beat Fung to be undersecretary for home affairs, seemingly leaving Fung out in the cold.
Yet it didn't stop Fung showing support for a government his old party vehemently opposed. In October last year, after the government shelved its controversial plans for national education in school, Fung joined pro-government protesters in a showdown with those whose campaign had killed the curriculum. He accused Scholarism, a student-led protest group, of "demonising" national education.
"One day, when I put aside my business [interests], I will go and teach national education," Fung claimed.
Few could have imagined that Fung would step away from his company a year later for an entirely different task: to fight for the job of information co-ordinator that had been vacant since Teng quit in August on health grounds.
But scepticism remains about how Fung will cope in his HK$175,000-per-month role: twice the salary of the lawmakers whose ranks he wanted to join, and seven times the HK$23,000 stipend for councillors.
Fung told the Post last week that he would do the job "with a humble heart and a responsible attitude". He declined to say more as he didn't want to "upset" other media.
Education Graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a social sciences degree in politics and business administration
1984: President of the Hong Kong University Students' Union
1985: Headed the Hong Kong Federation of Students
1994: Co-founded the Democratic Party
1996: Founded consultancy PR Concepts
2003: Defeated in the Southern District Council election
2004: Sought to quit Democrats after a quarrel with the late democracy icon Szeto Wah
2005: Founded pressure group Middle Class Force
2007: Sold his shares in PR Concepts to an American firm
2008 - 2013: Southern district councillor
May 2012: Applied for undersecretary posts in Leung Chun-ying's administration
June 2012: Quit Democratic Party
April 2013: Appointed a non-executive director of the Urban Renewal Authority
December 3, 2013: Appointed Information co-ordinator, Office of the Chief Executive
Today: Takes office