Here's an unusual idea that the leadership in Beijing won't hear from the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. Why not give Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa a new title - party secretary? The next step would be to find him an able number two - let's describe the role as that of mayor - to assume the mundane tasks of managing this city of 6.8 million. Mr Tung could then devote his attention to some of the things he does best, such as promoting Hong Kong in Beijing and internationally. The new mayor could serve both as a chief operating officer, and as salesman for Mr Tung's policies to an often sceptical public. That sounds like heresy. But in fact the system does not really need to be turned on its head to achieve that. Mr Tung needs only to find from among his principal officials the one he can trust most, one who has better political instincts than himself, to do the humdrum job of running the government, and then take a back seat himself. Why would this help Hong Kong, and why should the central government put Hong Kong's issues high on its agenda? Hong Kong still counts as China's most cosmopolitan city and its primary link to the world's financial markets. It serves as a litmus test of the nation's ability to accommodate political, social, and economic diversity. Knowhow and investment from Hong Kong are among the driving forces behind the dynamism of the Pearl River Delta region. Yet for all its aspirations and achievements, these are bad times for Hong Kong, mired in a malaise thicker than the pollution that often blankets its green hills and jade-green harbour. One reason is its post-1997 government, which often seems to be off its game. Since the beginning of Mr Tung's second administration last July, it has been assailed by public criticism at every move. When the chief executive formed his first quasi-cabinet last July, people carped that his new team was made up of cronies who didn't know when to quit and couldn't be voted out of office. Although he had something called a 'principal officials accountability system' intended to provide benchmarks for performance, many complained it was vague. In September, when the government tabled its security bill, as required by Article 23 of the Basic Law, indignant critics insisted the new law would undermine Hong Kong's cherished rule of law and put its civil liberties at risk. Next week, when the government introduces its new Budget, we are likely to go through the by now familiar routine. Critics will stamp their feet but propose few alternatives, and the pro-government majority will simply repeat the government's line. An already alienated public will be lost in limbo between the two extremes. This newspaper is just as guilty as any of the opposition parties of playing armchair critic. There is a lack of leadership in this city, and the problem is not Mr Tung's personality, nor whether he is incompetent or weak-willed, as some say. In fact, Mr Tung has many strengths, chief among them that he has the trust of the central government. The problem, or at least part of it, is the job itself, which needs to be tailored to Mr Tung's competencies. Many governments adopt the practice of appointing a chief administrator to carry out the messy tasks of government. The role of mayor would be manifold. Prior to the financial secretary's budget speech next Wednesday, the mayor would make the rounds of civic organisations and official agencies to explain why many of us must adjust to lower living standards, in order to get Hong Kong's finances back in order. He or she would shake hands and hold some babies, behaving like the politician and leader that most cities need.