Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee says some ministers are not professional enough and the financial secretary is a miser.
But her comments yesterday drew a swift defence of the governing team from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
He said it would be more positive to give his administration time and space to deliver on pledges and insisted no one had any plans to quit Exco.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said all ministers were united in helping Leung introduce new policies.
Ip's remarks came when she was asked by a Commercial Radio interviewer whether there were one or two members in Leung's cabinet who could be substituted.
"Yes, I think so. Some of them could be more professional," Ip answered. "You can see some of them cannot [comprehend government] papers. They just say whatever they are familiar with in the Legco, and they don't understand the government's affairs."
Ip did not mention names, but she was apparently referring to ministers who joined the government last year.
However, she apologised a few hours later, saying her comments arose "completely out of the radio host's pressing questions".
"I did not [mean to] make any suggestion about replacing officials," she added.
In a University of Hong Kong survey this month, Development Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po and Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim were the least popular ministers - with net approval ratings of minus 27 and minus 19 percentage points respectively.
Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing enjoyed a higher net approval rating of plus 23 percentage points, but Ip indicated that the government's decision on Wednesday to withdraw a plan to expand the Tseung Kwan O landfill demonstrated that Wong "clearly lacked political strength … and wasn't lobbying skilfully enough".
Wong later told RTHK that he was still on a learning curve and admitted he had to improve his skills. "The difficulty of the task must not be ignored either," he added.
Overall, Ip said, "Leung's biggest setback in the past year was his relatively weak cabinet - they were short of experience [because] many of them were new, and they faced an unprecedented raft of blows, or so-called scandals". However, Ip also suggested it would be unfair to blame Leung alone for all problems in the city.
"In the last decade, there were problems which were not properly handled - land and housing, the wealth gap and the failure to transform our economic structure," Ip said. "So public resentment has been growing [since former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's tenure] … It was a pity that the former chief executive wasted some opportunities … to carry out long-term planning."
Ip also criticised Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah for being "too much of a miser".
"He only kept the fiscal reserve from being misused. This is important, but he did not have a strategy for economic development and a policy for [new] industries," Ip said.
Tsang, who is in Myanmar, could not be reached for comment, but a government source suggested Ip's comments were unfair to him. "In the budget [in February,] Tsang mentioned a lot about the directions of economic development for Hong Kong," the source said.