Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has given his most spirited defence to date of the man the democratic camp loves to hate: his top lieutenant, Stephen Lam Sui-lung.
Lam, whose recent appointment as chief secretary sparked a street demonstration joined by around 3,000 people, is consistently ranked one of the least popular city officials.
Responding to a question on an RTHK Radio 3 programme yesterday, Tsang leapt to his new deputy's defence, and topped off his plaudits by calling Lam 'a good Christian'.
RTHK presenter Bryan Curtis asked: 'Why did you appoint such an unpopular minister, Stephen Lam, to the post of chief secretary? Some people feel that's a slap in the face.'
Tsang replied: 'I need a very adroit administrator. I want somebody who [is] humble, sympathetic and somebody who can deliver. And somebody who is a team player.
'I've known this man for decades. He is a very able, humble person, a good Christian. But as a loyal servant, particularly doing things that might not be very popular to certain politicians, he gets all the flak. But I think people must give him a chance.'
Tsang's comments were in response to a question first raised by People Power legislator Wong Yuk-man which went unanswered in a heated session at the Legislative Council last week. Wong accused the chief executive of dodging the question before 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung threw an egg in Tsang's direction. Both Leung and Wong were ejected from the chamber.
Lam's appointment to the second-highest government post was met with an estimated 3,000-strong protest and his popularity rating is the lowest for a chief secretary since 1997, according to a University of Hong Kong survey.
Lam, former secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, saw his popularity fall over his handling of a proposal to scrap legislative by-elections without consulting the public.
Earlier in the programme, Curtis asked Tsang if he wanted to continue his political career. 'Would you like a national role?' the host asked.
'I really want to retire,' Tsang said. 'People tend to forget I'm 67 already, and by the time I retire, [I] will be approaching 68. And I have done 45 years of public service by then.
'I really want to do certain things which I could still do when I remain active,' he said. 'For instance, I want to do more photography with birds and animals ... and you need to be mobile. And I want to do that.'