When Tung Chee-hwa was campaigning for the office of chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), the main objections were focused on his background as a tycoon. Concerns were raised that his business ties would give rise to nepotism, favouritism or other potential conflicts of interests. Critics were worried that business figures in Hong Kong were known for their dexterity in bending the rules rather than adhering to them. Proper procedures in government, it followed, might be jeopardised in the post-handover era. Mr Tung later severed himself from his family's shipping operations. The criticism faded as he emerged favourite among the three candidates presented to the 400-member Selection Committee. Tycoon Li Ka-shing was among the first to say on the record that he had reservations about the 'thousand and one links' that a future governor might have should his background be in business. He later revised his position and insisted that as long as proper rules and procedures were being observed, it would make no difference for the future administration to be led by a man from business circles. Another prominent businessman, Paul Yip Kwok-wah, who also doubled up as a member of the Selection Committee, also spoke against Mr Tung's candidacy in the early stage of the race. The Hong Kong Policy Research Institute Limited, founded by Mr Yip, was later commissioned to conduct research on social policies to help map out Mr Tung's platform. After the elections, Mr Yip was elevated to become the first and only special adviser to Mr Tung outside the Executive Council. Within 100 days of the election, Mr Tung managed to convince the public to put the issue behind them, although there are still some scattered reports resenting the way he has hired a team of seven officers from his former business establishment to work in his office. Mr Tung is poised to visit the United States in May to try to convince Western sceptics that Hong Kong will continue to shine under Chinese rule in all aspects, including democracy and civil liberties. A couple of his trusted personal assistants are due to travel with him. Government officials were at a loss to determine the equivalent ranks of Mr Tung's aides in terms of allowances available for flights, accommodation and other benefits. Different grades of officials are accorded different classes of overseas expanses. The civil service has an elaborate set of guidelines on this subject, but they do not cater for the Chief Executive-designate's personal assistants. Despite initial problems, Mr Tung himself has emerged by and large unscathed. Nonetheless, his surprise appointment of his Executive Council member Leung Chun-ying on Friday to head a taskforce on the SAR's future long-term housing strategy has rekindled a political tinder box. Even before the formal announcement, unnamed senior government officials had been quoted complaining about Mr Leung's apparent conflict of interest as he owns a firm of real estate agents, surveyors, valuers and auctioneers. The major political parties were unanimous in rejecting the appointment. Chairman of the Liberal Party Allen Lee Peng-fei went as far as to warn Mr Tung that he should be ready to pay a political price for his decision. No questions have been asked about Mr Leung's ability or integrity. Both Mr Tung and Mr Leung were adamant that the appointment had nothing to do with the introduction of a full or quasi-ministerial system, under which Exco members would take the lead in formulating and defending government policies. But if the same arrangement had been announced by Governor Chris Patten, it would probably have been immediately denounced as a major departure from the current efficient, civil service-led administrative system. Whether this is a ministerial system in its early form, however, is irrelevant. The crux of the matter is that there is a public demand for a safeguard to be in place to minimise conflict of interests, genuine or perceived. Mr Leung noted that other professionals had been serving on a wide range of land, housing and property-related government advisory committees. He might have forgotten how former executive councillor Maria Tam Wai-chu landed in troubled waters over her perceived conflict of interest between her taxi business and her chairmanship of the Traffic Advisory Committee. In any case, Mr Leung's latest appointment has been seen as more than advisory. He has been trusted to come up with a fundamental change to solve the territory's deteriorating housing problems. Even before the announcement, some officials were already grumbling in private. Mr Tung has said on various occasions that one way to elevate the problem of land supply is to allow industrial land to revert quickly to residential usage. Although residents may also benefit, the lion's share of the profits is bound to be taken by developers who have large reserves of industrial lots. This might eventually be accepted as a viable option, even if the biggest benefit went into the developer's pockets. Such a policy's credibility would inevitably be undermined if it was to be tabled by a taskforce led by someone with a major stake in it. Another Exco member, Dame Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, who also chairs the Housing Authority, might have been a less controversial choice. But her present position as the convenor of Mr Patten's de facto cabinet prevents her from playing any meaningful role in Mr Tung's Exco until after the handover. Her decision to distance herself from the incoming Exco is, in effect, in response to the fear that there could be a conflict of roles by serving simultaneously on the policy-making bodies of two bickering sovereign powers. Mr Tung and Dame Rosanna have both taken some steps to address the issues of conflicts of roles and interests. It is now Mr Leung's turn.