Henry Tang says ‘nobody’s perfect’ as he assesses current chief executive contenders

Despite efforts to appear impartial, former chief secretary says Regina Ip may have the broadest experience

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2017, 5:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 January, 2017, 12:18pm

Few Hong Kong ministers have had close working relationships with chief executives for as long as Henry Tang Ying-yen. The former senior minister was also acting chief executive for a few weeks in 2005 but failed in his bid for the top job a few years later. Still, it could be said he knows more than most about what it takes to run the city.

With the current leadership race heating up, he appeared reluctant to pick a side when asked. However, he admitted feeling Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee is a “more-rounded” contender than the others.

The former chief secretary weighed in on the imminent election on Friday after testifying at the trial of his former boss and chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

“I actually think Regina Ip has a more complete experience,” he said outside the High Court. Ip, he said, had served in a variety of government posts, from director of industry to security chief, which gave her insights into economic and community issues.

“And as a Legislative Council member, she has accumulated a lot of experience in areas she would otherwise not have been exposed to,” he insisted.

But Tang stopped short of completely throwing his support behind Ip or any of the other contenders – High Court judge Woo Kwok-hing, former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah and ex-chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Lam is seen as Beijing’s preferred choice, but Tang warned that she would need to work on her “very little experience” with the economy, which he stressed was a key “ingredient of Hong Kong”. Conversely, he said Tsang, the long-standing finance chief, may lack experience on constitutional issues and has to be “more careful on how he portrays and expresses himself” when discussing them. “Nobody is perfect,” Tang argued, saying all the contenders had their strengths and weaknesses.

He also dismissed concerns that Tsang would not be trusted by Beijing, saying he had been appointed commissioner of the Customs and Excise Department at one point before becoming financial secretary. “[Beijing] trusts him for holding a gun. It also trusts him for keeping the key to the safe,” Tang said.

He did not comment on whether Beijing would influence the vote, but said he hopes the election is a “fair and impartial” one. “I would … encourage people to continue to express themselves, formulate strategies and blueprints for Hong Kong’s future because I think Hong Kong people are very tired of the bickering that has been going on these days.” Tang said he would like to see the candidates focus on the economy, people’s livelihoods and unifying the society.

Tang also said he hopes this election will not resemble the scandal-plagued competition he ran in and lost to outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. His campaign was overshadowed by the embarrassing saga surrounding an illegal extension at his home in Kowloon Tong. Originally tipped as the front runner, his popularity plunged when the illegal 2,250 sq ft basement was discovered. Television news crews packed into the road outside and hired cranes to peer over his wall to get shots of the unauthorised works. In court, his wife took the blame for it.

Leung won the election but a new controversy was sparked when an illegal structure was found at his house on The Peak, which he was forced to dismantle.

“I don’t want to see a repeat of what happened to us in 2012 because that time, it had left a very negative impression for elections,” Tang said.

Meanwhile, the aspiring chief executives continued to rally for support from the 1,194-strong election committee which picks Hong Kong’s next leader.

Lam met around 60 members of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce this morning. Chairman Jonathan Choi Koon-shum said while both Lam and John Tsang were suitable candidates, the chamber currently favoured Lam, due to their close working relationship in the past. The chamber holds 18 votes in the election committee and Choi indicated they would vote as a bloc.

At the same time, Tsang took to social media to announce his education “platform”, which includes abolishing the Territory-wide System Assessment or the refined Basic Competency Assessment, which have been slammed by parents for piling pressure on schoolchildren. The plan appeared popular, gaining over 15,000 “likes” in six hours.