Carrie Lam, John Tsang ‘cleared to run’ for Hong Kong’s top job

Beijing expected to approve their resignations on Monday, with development chief Paul Chan the surprise choice to take over as financial secretary

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 9:50am

Beijing will give its approval on Monday for Hong Kong’s No 2 and No 3 officials Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and John Tsang Chun-wah to quit their posts, sources have told the Post, paving the way for them to run in what is shaping up to be a tight chief executive race.

And in a surprise development, Tsang – who has waited more than a month for his resignation as financial secretary to be approved – will be replaced by development chief Paul Chan Mo-po, a close ally of incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying, instead of the acting minister, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Professor Chan Ka-keung.

Sources with knowledge of the situation said Leung had recommended Paul Chan for the post.

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“Leung insists on appointing Paul Chan as financial secretary, though the remaining tenure is just five months,” a pro-establishment politician well-connected with mainland authorities said.

Another source suggested Beijing appreciated Chan’s efforts in tackling land issues and his relationship with civil servants. Chan accompanied Leung on his duty visit to Beijing last month.

The approval from the central government means both Lam and Tsang will be off the starting blocks at the same stage and can start official lobbying of the 1,194 Election Committee members who will vote for the city’s new leader in March.

But Lam, widely regarded as Beijing’s favoured candidate, only resigned as chief secretary last Thursday, a month after Tsang quit.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung – who has been acting in Lam’s post since she resigned – was likely to be confirmed in the role at the same time as Chan.

Last week, a public opinion survey commissioned by the Post gave Tsang a 4.4 percentage point lead over Lam. Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing are also in the race.

Lam is expected to officially declare her leadership bid also on Monday, shortly after Beijing’s stamp of approval on her resignation. Businessman Allan Zeman, a Lam supporter, said it would only be a brief announcement as she would wait until her election rally on February 3 to unveil a manifesto.

The likely appointment of Paul Chan, formerly an accountant, as financial secretary sparked controversy on Sunday, with some pundits of the opinion that Chan Ka-keung, an expert in economics and finance, might be a more appropriate choice. Tsang’s successor will have little more than a month to prepare for the annual budget on February 22.

Dr Chung Kim-wah, a political scientist at Polytechnic University, said Paul Chan had no experience in public finance management. “Chan Ka-keung is more suitable to handle the duties of the financial secretary as he has been doing things in a similar field and often cooperating with Tsang,” he said.

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But Professor Francis Lui Ting-ming, of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s business school, believed Chan Ka-keung’s familiarity with financial services had counted against him.

“Chan Ka-keung has a lot of day-to-day matters to handle as the secretary for financial services and treasury, such as renminbi business in Hong Kong,” he said.

Neither Paul Chan nor ­Matthew Cheung commented on Sunday.

Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing rejected claims that the uneven timing Lam and Tsang needed for their resignations to be approved was a sign Beijing preferred Lam.

“All I know is the central government needs to make very careful consideration whenever an official resigns – that includes the successor of his or her job,” he said. He also denied being invited to be Tsang’s election office chairman, adding he would not rule out running for the job himself.