Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa clearly has a blind spot when it comes to property prices. Early last year he caused outrage by urging flat-buyers not to enter the then overheated property market, shortly before prices soared to new heights. A chastened Mr Tung later admitted these remarks were one of the biggest mistakes he had made as Chief Executive and promised never to do anything similar again. Nonetheless, that is what he is now doing, the only difference being that this time his blunder is taking place at the bottom of the market instead of its peak. Over the past few weeks, Mr Tung has repeatedly said the slide in flat prices has bottomed out. That will come as news to anyone who has watched the Hang Seng Index plunge during the same period, or to those who have seen unemployment and interbank rates rise over the past few days. Worse still, Mr Tung has now written almost a blank cheque for the big developers, telling a conference organised by the Far East Economic Review 'that whatever the Government could do, should do, we will do', in order to arrest the decline in flat prices. In comments which are already being bitterly regretted within the administration, he claimed officials were drawing up further measures to stabilise the property market but refused to give any indication of what these were. The results of his remarks were predictable. Since few people trust the Government, and certainly not when it comes to flat prices, the few remaining buyers deserted the market in droves to wait and see what effect the administration's latest attempt at intervention would produce. That explains why hundreds of units went unsold at an ultra-cheaply priced development in Yuen Long last weekend, which initially had been heavily oversubscribed. Having come into office last July with a high-profile pledge to increase flat production to 85,000 a year, Mr Tung has taken refuge in blaming the 'supply-side problem' of too many units being put on the market - which is partly the result of his policies - for the slump in prices. While he and Financial Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen reassure big developers that this pledge will be interpreted 'flexibly' (ie. forgotten) those officials who privately warned that setting such a high target would cause problems are left to pick up the pieces. The sight of Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah recently being attacked for continuing to defend the 85,000 figure was unpleasant. Both he and Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands Bowen Leung Po-wing went through several rough months immediately after the handover, when they were bold enough to tell Mr Tung that some aspects of his target were simply not achievable. Rumours - almost certainly unfounded - even began to circulate about Mr Wong's dismissal, following an ambiguous remark by Mr Tung. Now they have been proved right, but left to carry the buck for a policy they never enthusiastically supported in the first place. That has ramifications which stretch far beyond housing policy. One of the biggest fears of civil servants before the handover was that they might be pushed to take the blame for policies which Executive Councillors and others forced on them. That has not happened yet, with Mr Tung careful to treat the Civil Service with respect. However, the watering down of the 85,000-flat target may prove an exception. If so, that has implications for the long-running debate over the desirability of a ministerial system. Civil servants are often accused of enjoying power without responsibility. But it looks like they are being held responsible for a policy which it was never within their power to prevent.