City Beat

Leung Chun-ying sees virtue of well-placed aides in getting job done

Appointments may fly in the face of meritocracy, but city's leader needs people who can help him

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 4:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 March, 2016, 1:02pm

Are meritocracy and the formation of one's own governance team mutually exclusive?

Theoretically, it should not be the case. But in today's Hong Kong, where anything to do with politics can easily stir emotions, any government appointment can potentially raise eyebrows.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, new to the job two years ago, encountered difficulties in building his core team and was seen as having a weak cabinet.

Now, a clearer picture is emerging of a chief executive determined to place allies and aides in his inner circle.

Recent appointments to four major public agencies sent out strong signals: the Airport Authority, Trade Development Council, Independent Police Complaints Council and Science and Technology Parks.

The Airport Authority posting, in particular, has been labelled as a case of "Leung fans" taking over: tycoon developer Vincent Lo Hong-sui, a business heavyweight who openly supported Leung during his 2012 election campaign for the top job, became chairman on June 1, but for one year only. He will then swap roles with Jack So Chak-kwong, who stops chairing the trade council in May next year.

Lo, as a board member, had not been on good terms with Marvin Cheung Kin-tung, the man he replaced. Cheung stepped down suddenly on May 31, the same day that Lo's new job was announced, citing his health. He was diagnosed with leukaemia seven years ago but was able to return to work after months of intensive treatment in the United States. But his conflict with Lo over airport developments became an open secret, and was settled only last year when Leung personally stepped in to mediate between them.

The speculation over "Leung fans" is further fuelled by the naming of Franklin Lam Fan-keung as one of four new board members. Lam quit the Executive Council last year over alleged misconduct in the sale of two of his flats ahead of the start of new stamp duties. His resignation was seen as a heavy blow to Leung at the time.

But the Independent Commission Against Corruption later dropped the case because of insufficient evidence, and Lam did not disappear from the public eye. Instead, he threw himself into advocating for a massive development plan on Lantau, home to the airport. As a key Leung backer, Lam, only in his early 50s, might just succeed So, 69, at the end of the latter's three-year term.

One of Leung's pet projects is how to keep the city's status as a regional aviation hub and make full use of the land surrounding Chek Lap Kok airport. Now, with his trusted supporters in the authority - and So, who is known for his excellent management skills - it is believed Leung can push ahead more easily with what he wants.

Granted, So had nominated Leung's competitor, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, during the election, but after the pair's rivalry died down, So took a stand for true democracy, putting aside the campaign bickering to support the current administration for the good of Hong Kong.

Then there is the designation of executive councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun as Science and Technology Parks chairwoman.

Her new role sits nicely with Leung's plan of setting up an innovation and technology bureau, ensuring he can get things started better.

Over at the police complaints council, a body that handles relations between police and the public, new chairman Larry Kwok Lam-kwong is seen as another firm supporter of Leung.

Kwok, a solicitor, was once a delegate to a provincial-level Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He has the potential to facilitate better communication and even cooperation between the council and the government in handling sensitive complaints about protests.

The government has sought to assure the public of Kwok's political inclination, saying the council will continue to "maintain a fair and impartial" stance under him. Hongkongers will be watching this.

The chief executive must have expected the tide of doubts and questions on his line-up of "Leung fans" to look after important areas for him. Yet, he apparently gave priority to clearing the way, by appointing people he can trust to get things done before it is too late.

After all, no appointment can please everyone, and a leader needs to have his own team. At the end of the day, performance will count more than any political label.