Chief executive candidate John Tsang’s laid back style is ‘the worst thing’ for Hong Kong, Arthur Li says

Executive Council member says the city’s next leader needs to be more than just a “gentle and nice guy”

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 9:39am

No one sitting at the government’s top decision-making body would support former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah as the next chief executive after witnessing his “laid back” governing style, Executive Council member Professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung claimed, lambasting it has resulted in the disastrous performance of his subordinates.

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Li said while the public might view Tsang as a “nice guy”, former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was a better choice for the job.

“Executive Council (Exco) members have worked with [Lam and Tsang] for a number of years and have seen how they performed. I do not think a single Exco member is supporting Tsang,” Li, a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said in Beijing.

“Carrie is extremely hands on, very dedicated and will tackle problems... John is a very nice person, he will sit back, relax and let you get on with it.”

Li said Tsang’s approach had already affected the performance of officials under his purview.

“I do not want to name names, but you look at Greg So [Kam-leung],” he said, referring to the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.

“HKTV was out, Cable TV is now closing down and even the food trucks is a disaster ... [Tsang] is laid back and he let this guy get on with it. It’s disaster after disaster after disaster.”

The city’s food truck scheme was dealt a heavy blow recently when an operator quit before it had even hit the road, blaming the red tape which had driven up costs.

Tsang and Lam are running in a three-horse race for the city’s top job alongside Woo Kwok-hing.

Tsang, the popular underdog, was the only candidate to bag nominations across the political spectrum. Lam however has bounded ahead in getting support from the 1,194-member Election Committee, which is formed largely by the pro-establishment bloc.

Li, a staunch supporter of Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 chief executive election, was appointed to Exco by the current leader following his victory.

Tsang’s office said they had no comment on Li’s remarks.

In an interview with the Post last month, Tsang differentiated his leadership style from that of Lam, saying he highlighted the importance of teamwork and mutual trust.

“I rely on my people to do things because... the people you appoint are the people you should trust,” Tsang said.

Separately, Li also broke his silence on the case of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was jailed for 20 months for failing to disclose a conflict of interest when he approved three applications from a radio broadcaster.

Li, who used to be the chairman of the now-collapsed Digital Broadcasting Corporation, said the ruling was too harsh and he believed Tsang did not intend to conceal the information.

“I think it was a lapse in a way,” said Li.

He said he was not approached by the graft-buster for the case’s investigation.

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No one sitting at the government’s top decision-making body would support former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah as the next chief executive after witnessing his “laid back” governing style, according to Executive Council member professor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung.

In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post on Saturday, Li said while the public might view Tsang as a “gentle and nice guy”, the city’s next leader had to be more than that. Former chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was a better choice, he said.

“Executive Council (Exco) members have worked with [Lam and Tsang] for a number of years and have seen how they performed. I do not think a single Exco member is supporting Tsang,” Li, a local delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said in Beijing.

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“Carrie is extremely hands on, very dedicated and will tackle problems. She will not shy away from difficulties. John is a very nice person, he will sit back, relax and let you get on with it.”

Li labelled the laid-back management style as “the worst thing” for Hong Kong – a city that is already facing severe competition with Singapore, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

He added that Tsang’s hands-off approach had already affected the performance of officials under his purview.

“I do not want to name names, but you look at Greg So [Kam-leung],” he said, referring to the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development.

“HKTV was out, Cable TV is now closing down and even the food trucks is a disaster ... [Tsang] is laid back and he let this guy get on with it. It’s disaster after disaster after disaster.”

The city’s infant food truck scheme, first floated by Tsang and spearheaded by So, was dealt a heavy blow recently when an operator quit before it had even hit the road. Other operators complained that excessive registration requirements and red tape had driven up the cost.

Tsang and Lam are running in a three-horse race for the city’s top job alongside retired judge Woo Kwok-hing.

Tsang, who has been leading in popularity polls, was the only candidate to bag support across the political spectrum during the nominations round. Despite being well-liked, however, Lam has bounded ahead in the race for chief executive, winning 580 nominations from the 1,194-member Election Committee, which is formed largely by the pro-establishment bloc.

Li dismissed suggestions that Tsang’s wide-ranging support made him a better candidate to mend divisions in the city, and went on to accuse the former financial secretary of “being manipulated” by pan-democrats.

He said Tsang’s flip-flopping over his election manifesto, especially his decision not to pursue the completion of a national security law by 2020, proved he had “no integrity” and could be easily swayed.

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Li, a staunch supporter of Leung Chun-ying in the 2012 chief executive election, was appointed to Exco by the current leader following his victory. He previously sat on Exco between 2002 and 2007 as the Secretary for Education and Manpower. During that time, between 2003 and 2006, Tsang served as the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology.

Currently, there are 32 Exco members comprising the chief executive, his principal officials and non-official members.

In an interview with the Post last month, Tsang differentiated his leadership style from that of Lam, saying he highlighted the importance of teamwork and mutual trust.

“I rely on my people to do things because... the people you appoint are the people you should trust,” Tsang said.

“If you don’t trust them, why appoint them? And if you appoint them, but you still don’t trust them, there must be an issue in your judgment.”

Separately, Li also broke his silence on the case of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was jailed for 20 months in February for failing to disclose a conflict of interest when he approved three applications from a radio broadcaster between 2010 and 2012.

Li, who used to be the chairman of the now-collapsed Digital Broadcasting Corporation, said the ruling was too harsh and he believed Tsang did not intend to conceal the information.

Hong Kong’s Exco was more or less just a “rubber stamp” to approve the licence after the Communications Authority did its work and had made the recommendation, he said.

“I think it was a lapse in a way,” said Li. “I don’t think it was intentional.”

He said he was not approached by the graft-buster for the case’s investigation.