When is a good time to take a break? If you are the chief executive of Hong Kong, the answer is probably never.
According to Leung Chun-ying's office, he went on holiday from August 5 to August 9. They didn't say where he was going, but he was spotted by some Hong Kong tourists on Koh Samui in Thailand. C.Y. later told reporters he and his wife were celebrating their wedding anniversary.
Controversy arose immediately. Some politicians criticised him for going away just a month after taking office, at a time when the government was under fire over the spill of plastic pellets that washed ashore after Typhoon Vicente and with his hand-picked Development Bureau chief, Paul Chan Mo-po, embroiled in a crisis over his wife's involvement in renting subdivided flats.
In Hong Kong, the chief executive is entitled to 22 days' annual leave. Some close to Leung assert that he has been working non-stop since March 25, the day he won the top job, not just from July 1, the day he was sworn in. Regardless, the fact is he was away from the heat of the "kitchen", or the government headquarters at Admiralty.
Perhaps he was taking the opportunity to reflect and draw lessons from his efforts at team-building over the past few months?
An August 7 editorial on Chan's contradictory statements over the flats business in this newspaper pointed out that "nothing is more fatal than when the people feel politicians are not telling the truth.". It's also fair to say that nothing is more fatal than the government failing public expectations and both the Chan case and the plastic pellets polluting our shores were good examples. That said, C.Y. must continue building his team, which is not yet in place. His next step is the appointment of deputies to several policy bureaus. Most recently, there has been surprising speculation that Christine Loh Kung-wai, a veteran and vocal environmentalist, could become the environment undersecretary.
Loh was once one of the most promising rising stars in politics, highly appreciated by the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten. He appointed Loh to Legco in 1992, and she subsequently ran in two successful direct elections in 1995 and 1998. Since quitting politics, she has devoted most of her time to environmental protection.
In her 2006 autobiography Being Here: Shaping a Preferred Future, Loh detailed her prominent family's roots on the mainland and in Hong Kong and shared her thoughts about how to "ensure the city's optimum future within China in a healthy, sustainable, economically viable and more democratic environment". But her name was deleted by Beijing from former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's list of candidates to be head of the Environment Bureau, no doubt was because of her close connections to the pan-democrats.
Six years later, it is believed she has been invited by C.Y., only this time offered a lower position. Loh, who has neither confirmed nor denied the rumours, is said to have accepted the "demotion" because she wants to do something for Hong Kong's environment.
In theory, officials at the rank of undersecretary or lower do not need Beijing's official approval. Whether Beijing accepts Loh - and whether that is a sign of its willingness to compromise on talent from the "democratic" circle - remains to be seen. But at this critical time, C.Y. would be lucky to get Loh on board: many believe she is overqualified for the job and ought to be bureau chief. If she were already in office, they say, there might be better communication with environmental groups and the pellet case might have been handled better.
Getting the right people in to the right positions is a political art. Both C.Y. and Beijing need to further open their minds to embrace talented and dedicated people to serve our city.